READING >> Going into Tuesday night's District 3 Class AAA first-round game against No. 2 Berks Catholic, James Buchanan's girls basketball team, seeded No. 18, had realistic expectations.
"We didn't want to set the bar too high or too low," Rockets assistant coach Becky Miller said. "We wanted to give it our best and compete, but we knew what we were up against. We knew they were the No. 2 seed and a good team."
And the Saints proved it early and often. Berks Catholic led from start to finish, and Devon Merritt was a menace in the paint in a 60-28 win.
James Buchanan ends its season with a 14-10 record after reaching districts for the first time in nine years.
"Coming into my freshman season, I never thought we'd reach districts," JB senior Jennae Piper said. "Then coach (Jen) Lauthers came in last year and said our goal was .500 and playoffs. We made it to .500 last year, and this year we were able to get into districts and win a game. It was pretty special."
The Rockets' defense came out ready to play, and Berks Catholic (21-3) – which will play the winner of Conrad Weiser and Susquenita at Governor Mifflin on Saturday at 1 p.m. in a quarterfinal – struggled to get going. But Merritt made sure the Saints didn't stall for long.
With the score 4-2 midway through the first quarter, Merritt went to work. She scored six straight points to push the Saints' lead to eight and finished the quarter with 10 points.
Miller said, "We tried to double-team her with our 2-3 zone, and it worked at times, but she was able to use her height and athleticism to beat us. She also did well on the offensive boards."
Merritt was a beast all game, finishing with 25 points and 11 rebounds. She was 9-for-12 from the field and 7-for-8 from the foul line.
"Our goal is always to start fast and get out to a lead," Merritt said. "I was able to have success early and we all did a good job of keeping that lead."
Once the Saints got ahead, they stayed there. The Rockets didn't score more than 10 points in any quarter and turned the ball over 25 times. They also shot just 10 of 50 from the field (20 percent) and couldn't get anything going in the paint against Berks Catholic's bigs.
"I think that when our shooters are having a bad night, their first reaction is to try to shoot themselves hot," Miller said. "I think that started to show in the second half. We started to force things."
Berks Catholic coach Bob Birmingham said, "We encourage other teams to drive the lane on us, because we can usually alter or block shots in the paint. We knew they had some good shooters, so our goal was to get our guards out on them and force them into tough shots."
Taylor Gorman led James Buchanan with eight points and also added nine rebounds. Jenna Carbaugh, a senior, scored four points and led the team with 12 rebounds.
"I hope this season can really be an example for our young players," Miller said. "They saw tonight what a really good team looks like, so hopefully they can see what it takes to get to that level."
NOTES >> Berks Catholic outrebounded JB 32-30, but the Rockets had very few second-chance opportunities ... The teams combined to go just 1 of 15 from the 3-point line ... The Saints were 16-for-18 from the foul line, and Courtney Wensel scored 10 points off the bench.
JAMES BUCHANAN (28)
Taylor Gorman 3-8 2-2 8, Jennae Piper 1-10 4-6 7, Jenna Carbaugh 2-11 0-0 4, Charity Miller 2-7 0-2 4, Tristen Amsley 1-6 0-0 2, Rachel Martin 1-6 0-0 2, Madison Martin 1-2 0-1 2, Susan Mackling 0-0 1-3 1, Rachel Martin 0-2 0-0 0, Renee Sollenberger 0 0-0 0, Abby Mackling 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 10-50 7-14 28.
BERKS CATHOLIC (60)
Devon Merritt 9-12 7-8 25, MiKayla Lea 0-2 6-6 6, Haley Kubinack 3-5 0-0 6, Brooke Wensel 2-14 0-0 4, Xiamara Toledo 1-8 0-0 2, Courtney Wensel 5-10 0-0 10, Gemmi Cabrera 1-1 3-4 5, Abigail Gaffney 1-7 0-0 2.
Totals — 22-59 16-18 60.
James Buchanan56710—28Berks Catholic14191413—60
3-point goals — JB 1-9 (Piper), BC 0-6.