Eric Gidney entered Lansdale Catholic’s locker room to a vastly different reaction than the one he’d gotten after last year’s PIAA 4A quarterfinal win.
Last year, the Crusaders were the unknown team happy to be along on the ride and celebrating each win on what turned into a special state playoff run and state runner-up finish. Now, as a favorite not only to reach Hershey but win it all, there’s a different air around this Crusaders group.
Going into Tuesday night’s state semifinal against District 2’s Scranton Prep, LC is making it all business for the trip to William Allen HS in downtown Allentown for the 7 p.m. tip.
“Last year when I walked into the locker room after we beat Delone Catholic (in the quarterfinals0, I got drenched with water, because I think it was a surprise and a huge accomplishment,” Gidney said. “This time when I walked in the locker room, they were all business. They’re looking at it like ‘we’ll part after Hershey,’ and listen, I love that.
“That’s what we need to be this year.”
LC will also need to be ready against a Classics team that brings an impressive 24-2 record into Tuesday’s game. Scranton Prep has held its opponent to 25 or fewer points eight times, and allowed just 26 points a couple times on top of that inlcuding its 59-26 quarterfinal win over Trinity.
Coach Bob Beviglia has his team in the state semis for the second time in three years (2020-21) with senior Rita Collins the Classics’ leader on both ends. Surrounding her is a relatively young roster featuring three sophomore starters including guards Jenna Hillebrand and Maya Jenkins plus forward Belle Dennebaum but one that can be prolific from beyond the three-point line.
Lansdale Catholic’s defense has been very good this postseason too, the Crusaders coming off a 49-29 shutdown of Allentown Central Catholic following big wins over Bishop McDevitt and Jersey Shore to open the tournament. Gabby Casey and Jaida Helm each posted double-doubles in the quarterfinals, the Crusaders’ athletic duo of senior forwards will need to be tough on the glass again against Scranton Prep team that’s a little undersized but hustles hard to make up for it.
The Crusaders can shoot the three two, and if they’re able to get out and run, it’s often hard to slow them down. Sanyiah Littlejohn, the team’s defensive ace and crisp-passing point guard noted she and her teammates know there’s a different feeling about this postseason.
“Last year, it was kind of a mystery,” Littlejohn said. “We didn’t know what to expect because we’d never made it that far. This year, we know we have a target on our backs and that’s what is setting our mindset.”
Here’s a look at Tuesday’s other local PIAA semifinal games.
(12-1) Archbishop Wood vs (1-1) West Chester Rustin
5:30 p.m. at Bensalem HS
The Vikings have to feel like they’ve been here before.
After back-to-back games against AACA competition in Mount Saint Joseph Academy and District I runner-up Villa Maria (in a game played at Bensalem), Wood now faces its second straight Ches-Mont foe after getting past Bishop Shanahan in the quarterfinals. Rustin, which not only the Ches-Mont but its first District I championship, certainly presents a formidable challenge on a team and individual level.
Looking at the Golden Knights starts with outstanding senior Laine McGurk, the Drexel recruit having plenty of huge plays already this postseason. McGurk had 32 and 29 point outings before a 16-point effort in Saturday’s quarterfinal win over Bethlehem Catholic and at 6-foot with plenty of elevation on her jumper, the wing will be priority No. 1 for Wood’s defensive effort.
Overlooking the rest of the Knights isn’t a great move either. They may not have the scoring accolades but Rustin’s supporting cast is tough, experienced and sets the tone for an aggressive defense. Seniors Ava Panetta, Lola Flynn and Elizabeth McGurk, along with junior Riley Stackhouse don’t back down and can get points as needed
Wood, seeking its third straight trip to Hershey after winning the last two PIAA 4A titles, is plenty experienced itself. The Vikings’ starting five all saw action throughout last year’s state playoff run and as usual, the team has a solid bench that can come in and support on either end.
Senior Deja Evans has eight straight double-doubles in PIAA playoff games, the 6-foot-2 Albany recruit will again need to control the glass to limit Rustin’s possessions. Defensively, Delaney Finnegan, Kara Meredith and Emily Knouse may all get turns guarding McGurk while the Vikings will try to beat Rustin’s pressure defense and work their halfcourt offense until the right shot materializes.
(12-1) Roman Catholic vs (12-3) Archbishop Wood
7 p.m. at Bensalem HS
The saying goes that the third time is the charm and that’s just what Wood will be hoping for.
Roman Catholic won both meetings with the Vikings so far this season, pulling away for a lopsided regular season win, then taking advantage of a late Archbishop Wood cold spell to win in the PCL semifinals at the Palestra. That Cahillites team is different than the one taking the floor on Tuesday, with two starters out due to transfer rules.
Still, any team that has Xzayvier Brown, Anthony Finkley and Shariff Jackson is one to take seriously.
Wood junior Jalil Bethea, the PCL’s MVP, will get another chance to matchup against St. Joe’s recruit Brown and snap a three-game skid against Roman that includes last year’s PIAA 6A title game. Bethea battled through some head games and physical play against Coatesville to score 31 points in helping Wood advance out of the quarterfinals, a performance that included his 1,oooth point.
Senior Carson Howard has also been strong this postseason and the Vikings will need another big game out of him inside against Roman’s size with Finkley and Jackson up front. Wood has rebounded well as a team, guards Josh Reed and Milan Dean able to go up and get the ball and Bethea’s good at securing a miss and pushing the ball up the floor.
Despite being less than full-strength, Roman has still been able to keep games at its pace in states. The Cahillites will need to avoid the second half offensive outbursts that Wood has used in the last three rounds to take control.
Both teams played in Hershey last year. Only one gets to go back this year, so it’s a safe bet that this one will be intensely contested.
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