STATE COLLEGE - So much about this game felt familiar for the York Catholic girls' basketball team. Like a mirror image of last year.
Same opponent. Same sluggish start. Same frenzied comeback.
And, most painfully, the same somber result.
For the second straight year, York Catholic succumbed to District 10 powerhouse Villa Maria in the PIAA Class AA championship game, rallying but falling short, 52-44, Friday at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. The Fighting Irish never completely erased the damage done during a disastrous first quarter, in which the Victors surged to a 16-2 lead.
That meant York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos had to deliver the same, consoling speech as last season. While the Villa players climbed into the stands to celebrate their second consecutive state title with their fans, the Irish huddled around their coach.
"I told them there was nothing to be ashamed of," Bankos said. "I told them this is a shining moment for the program."
It was, considering the context. The Irish made their fifth straight trip to the Class AA state finals - a stunning feat by any stretch. It was the third time in four years York Catholic met Villa in the championship.
But the program's fifth state title was not to be. In its immediate aftermath, this loss still hurt.
"I've been a part of this team for six years, four years for varsity," said senior Brittany Hicks, one of the Irish's emotional leaders. "I couldn't ask for a better team or better coach."
"It's tough to see kids crying," Bankos said, "but they'll enjoy this eventually."
York Catholic (28-4) figured to have its hands full against a loaded Villa Maria squad that returned four starters from last year. The Victors (28-2) hadn't lost to Pennsylvania competition heading into Friday.
The Irish never led and never found an answer for Villa senior guard Kayla McBride, a McDonald's All-American and Notre Dame commit who piled up 29 points and 11 rebounds. McBride scored 17 straight points for the Victors during one stretch in the third and fourth quarters, helping hold off the Irish rally.
"Just being a captain, being a senior, I did what I had to do," McBride said. "I felt like I had to take over and I did."
York Catholic countered with junior guard Kady Schrann, who scored 21 points. Hicks added 13.
No Irish player flourished during a woeful first quarter. York Catholic shot 1-of-9 in the frame, and trailed 22-2 early in the second quarter.
"I think we just came out and ran through the motions," Schrann said. "We needed to come out with more passion and that's what we did with the comeback."
York Catholic settled down, but still found itself down 14 with 2:36 to play in the third quarter. It was a similar situation to last year's final, when Villa Maria bolted to an 18-point, third-quarter lead and held on late.
York Catholic had a rally stored up for Friday, too.
The Irish found their touch from beyond the arc, nailing four 3-pointers in a row to start the fourth quarter. Schrann then cut the edge to one, 45-44, on a baseline jumper with 2:32 left.
It would be York Catholic's last points.
McBride hit a pair of foul shots on Villa's next possession, part of a crucial 14-point, fourth-quarter performance. York Catholic committed four turnovers in the final four minutes, and the Victors hit enough foul shots (11-for-18 in the fourth quarter) to hold on.
There is, of course, plenty of reason to believe the Irish can get back here for a sixth straight season. York Catholic returns four starters, led by Schrann, and all of its key reserves.
In the meantime, the Irish planned to retreat back home to the Heritage Hills Golf Resort Friday to eat pizza and relive the season that was.
"If they want to watch the game it'll be there. If not, we'll turn it off," Bankos joked. "We might want to fast forward through the first quarter."
VILLA MARIA (52)
Prischak 3 1-4 8, Wyant 2 0-0 5, Maruca 3 2-4 8, Kayla McBride 9 11-14 29, Webber 0 0-0 0, Karlee McBride 1 0-0 2, Mifsud 0 0-0 0, May 0 0-0 0, Steudler 0 0-0 0, Kloecker 0 0-0 0, Ek 0 0-0 0. Totals: 18 14-22 52.
YORK CATHOLIC (44)
Forjan 1 2-2 5, Kady Schrann 7 5-8 21, McFatridge 1 0-0 3, Brittany Hicks 3 5-9 13, Marks 0 0-0 0, McGann 0 0-0 0, Lupinetti 1 0-0 2, Salter 0 0-0 0, Brown 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 12-19 44.
Villa Mara 16 10 9 17 -- 52
York Catholic 2 15 10 17 -- 44
3-pointers: Villa Maria 2 (Ashley Prischak, Cara Wyant) ; York Catholic 6 (Kady Schrann 2, Brittany Hicks 2, Rachel Forjan, Karli McFatridge).
Check out The Varsity Beat blog for full postgame coverage from the game, including photos and video.
Also of interest· Check out this talented list of the all-time Greatest Athletes at York Catholic.