Berks Catholic runs away to fifth-place win vs. Lancaster Catholic

LITITZ >> Thursday night’s District 3 Class AAA girls’ basketball tilt between Berks Catholic and Lancaster Catholic featured two teams headed in opposite directions as the PIAA playoffs approach.

The Saints looked primed to make a run, while the Crusaders need answers, and quickly, or it will be a short stay.

Berks Catholic demolished their Lancaster brethren 52-18 in the District 3 Class AAA fifth-place game, held at Warwick High School. The Saints clinched fifth place in the bracket. Both teams are headed to states, as the top six in the classification earn berths.

Lancaster Catholic hit the first bucket of the game, then was promptly swarmed. The Saints led 11-4 after one but really turned it up in the second period, where a 14-0 run to close the half established a commanding 27-7 lead at the break. The Crusaders were held scoreless for the final 6:07 of the second quarter.

The Saints held the Crusaders to three first-half field goals and six for the contest, while doing pretty much whatever they wanted at the other end. Center Devon Merritt corralled a game-high 19 points, while forward Brooke Wensel chipped in 10. Utilizing their considerable height advantages, neither player (Merritt is 6-foot-3) was contained in any fashion at any time by the Crusaders, who were helplessly gashed early and often in the interior. Merritt would receive entry passes over the top and simply lay it in.

“We talked about limiting our mistakes and slowing the ball down a bit,” Berks Catholic head coach Bob Birmingham said. “And that’s what we did against their pressure. We scored a lot of points, but we took our time until we beat it.

“We knew we could control them on the inside because of our size, but we were worried about (Erin) Holt on the outside. We did not give her any open looks on the outside.”

Holt, a senior guard who has nailed 64 3-pointers this season, was shut out.

Lancaster Catholic looked disheveled at both ends of the floor, with an inability to create sufficient looks in the half-court set while failing to adequately engage defensively for long stretches despite a fair amount of pressure.

It’s a pattern that has Crusaders coach Charlie Detz concerned. His club has not played at a high level for a couple of weeks now, he said.

“We have to look at what we’re doing,” Detz said. “It’s not just tonight. This has been going on for a while now, the last couple of weeks, or since the playoffs started. Part of it is the level of competition, but part of it we’re not doing the things we did for the first 22 games. We’re struggling. We have five days to prepare and figure it out.

“But (Berks Catholic) is the best team we’ve seen all year. I’ve seen a lot of teams in person and on tape. They are the best I’ve seen.”

Fueled by that strong defensive showing, the Saints were as balanced as they’ve been all season Thursday night.

“We expect a lot of our post players,” Birmingham said. “Devon really controls the inside, while Brooke and (sister Courtney Wensel) and Mikayla Lea can take the outside. They know they can take that extra step because Devon’s inside. They’re starting to play that way, they’re starting to trust one another. And they’re talking real well on the court. That’s key.”

Already in control, Berks added exclamation points with a 17-2 run in the third quarter to lead 48-12 after three. Birmingham pushed for, and got, the 40-point margin needed for the mercy clock to kick in with 6:12 to go, at 52-12, then emptied his bench.

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