SHILLINGTON >> Every time Molly Driscoll, turned or spun, caught the ball or tried to slip a screen, Sanyiah Littlejohn was right there.
A year ago, Littlejohn had taken the challenge of guarding Allentown Central Catholic’s talented guard, shutting her down as Lansdale Catholic won a second round PIAA-4A playoff game. It came a round later this year, but Littlejohn got the same task on Saturday of living in Driscoll’s vicinity and giving her nothing easy.
Littlejohn’s efforts on defense were just the tip of a lockdown effort by the Crusaders, who downed the Vikettes 49-29 in their PIAA 4A quarterfinal contested at Governor Miffling Intermediate School.
“Basically, I just wanted to deny her the whole game and take away what she liked to do,” Littlejohn said. “She’s got that pull-up jumper and is a shooter. I face-guarded her and went under the screens.”
Littlejohn held Driscoll to just seven points, about 12 off her average and with a ripple effect that mired the Vikettes entire offense in a muck after a 4-0 start to the game. The LC sophomore only had a single basket, but she continued to show her improving and keen passing eye with five assists and the work she did on the defensive end was more valuable that any points she could have scored.
Allentown Central Catholic shot just 6-of-24 from the field in the first half and not any better in the second. Sometimes teams can endure that by creating second chances with turnovers or off the glass. Lansdale Catholic didn’t turn it over a whole lot and more devastatingly for ACC, the Philadelphia Catholic League champions controlled the glass.
LC seniors Jaida Helm and Gabby Casey, both atheltic fowards about 5-foot-10, each posted a double-double and as they ate up rebounds, the Vikettes had to work harder and harder to keep pace.
“They play very good defense, we struggled a bit offensively and couldn’t get into our rhythm,” Vikettes coach Katy Davidowicz said. “We didn’t get many boards and that really hurt our transition. We couldn’t really get things in transition which is really our game, that was our toughest battle, trying to get boards.”
Helm, who had 13 points and 11 rebounds, reached the state semifinals for the first time in her career after playing her first three seasons with Abington. The senior, who also blocked two shots, fed into the defensive intensity.
“The last game, we gave up a lot of second chance points, we felt like if we limited those points, we could build a good lead,” Helm said. “We had to stop Driscoll, we made her shots more difficult and Saniyah did a really good job on her so we could lock down everybody else. We made their shots harder, they got ’em, but they just missed them.”
LC started a little slow on offense but once the Crusaders started to attack the rim, they took control. Casey, who led all scorers with 18 points and grabbed 11 boards of her own, drew a shooting foul with 2:54 left in the first quarter and knocked down both free throws for a 10-8 lead that Lansdale Catholic wouldn’t look back from.
While the Vikettes were scrappy on defense, the District 11 champs having a good knack for getting a hand in to tip or dislodge the ball when LC players wanted to try and back down, they couldn’t slow the Crusaders from extending their lead. With every miss pretty much ending up in the hands of a Crusaders player, ACC went to the break trailing 25-15 with Casey and Helm combining for eight of LC’s 10 points in the second quarter.
“When you look up as a team and every second or third pass you want to make is denied, it takes you out of a rhythm,” Crusaders coach Eric Gidney said. “We gave up a little bit there early but once we sort of settled in, we were locking in too much on the player and not so much when the shots were being taken so we weren’t boxing out. There’s progressions during a game and our last one was ‘we need to box out’ so once we worked up to that, Jaida and Gabby were unbelievable on the glass.”
The third quarter saw Lansdale Catholic really take control. Aside from one slip where she let Driscoll get free to sink a three, Littlejohn had the Vikettes’ fulcrum player locked up and it led to some hurried possessions featuring errant passes and rushed looks that got LC out and running off their rebounding.
Littlejohn had two assists in a 9-0 run to open the quarter and she ended the frame with her only basket, slashing through the ACC defense to get a layup in the closing seconds. Her role this postseason hasn’t been to score and it hasn’t stopped the sophomore from putting a stamp on every stop in the postseason.
“I’m just looking to be a great point guard and dish out the ball,” Littlejohn said. “If we get open looks, then we can convert and that’s what’s going to get us the win. Last year, I was just getting a feel for how my team plays and I’ve gotten better at it.”
Davidowicz, in her first year leading ACC, pointed to Lansdale Catholic’s experience as an asset in games like Saturday. The Vikettes graduate five seniors, including Madi Szoke who led them with 14 points, but otherwise will be in position to be the team with experience next year.
While the last game was tough, it was an overall strong year for the program and that’s what the coaching staff focused on in the final team talk of the season.
“I walked in and told the girls there is nothing to hang your heads on,” Davidowich said. “You went 26-4, there is nothing to be ashamed of, you won an EPC title, a district title, it was a great ride and we should enjoy what we accomplished.
“To coach a bunch of seniors who accepted a new coach, we told them they’re always welcome to come back and challenge these girls when they’re home from college.”
Lansdale Catholic moves on to face District 2 champion Scranton Prep on Tuesday, putting the Crusaders a win away from returning to Hershey. Gidney’s noticed a different approach from his team this year, last year’s celebrations replaced with a focused energy after each win, the Crusaders hoping to save the fun for a possible state title.
The Classics are a really good team and will present their own challenges but if LC proved anything on Saturday, it’s that the Crusaders will be ready on both ends of the floor.
“We have to guard each other in practice every day so that’s how we get our defense where it needs to be,” Helm said. “Some games, we’re a little more on it than others. Today, we keyed on it a lot and decided our defense was going to lead in our win.”
LANSDALE CATHOLIC 15 10 13 11 – 49
ALLENTOWN CENTRAL CATHOLIC 8 7 7 7 – 29
LC: Jaida Helm 6 1-2 13, Sanyiah Littlejohn 2, Nadia Yemola 2 0-0 5, Olivia Boccella 4 1-1 11, Gabbyy Casey 6 5-6 18. Totals: 19 7-9 49
ACC: Madi Szoke 5 2-2 14, Abbey Koforth 3 0-0 6, Molly Driscoll 3 0-0 7, Lauren Egan 1 0-0 2. Totals: 12 2-2 29
3-pointers: LC – Boccella 2, Yemola, Casey; ACC – Szoke 2, Driscoll
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