COATESVILLE >> A familiar girls' basketball program with a different look blocked York Catholic's path along the PIAA tournament.
The Fighting Irish faced Saint Basil Academy two years ago en route to a Class AA finals run. This time, in the second round Tuesday at Coatesville Area High School, that old foe ended the Fighting Irish's season, 46-42.
The District 1 champion, Saint Basil (18-7) was a little bigger than before.
A 6-foot-2 sophomore stuck out among its starting five. Natalie Kucowski started at point guard for her eighth-grade team that last time these two met. Now? She guards the lanes to the basket with every intent of keeping any shot from going up. Against York Catholic (24-5), Kucowski successfully did that to the tune of 12 blocked shots.
"Our kids got caught by her quickness when they shot," York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos said.
With the presence of Kucowski — who still remains the primary ball handler at Saint Basil — the Panthers were a little more versatile, too.
"I don't number girls," said Saint Basil coach Terry Mancini, referring to their positions on the court. "Natalie would traditionally be a five, but we're basketball players."
Those basketball players also were a little more methodical.
They never trailed York Catholic, which nearly caught up in the fourth quarter despite long possessions chewing up the clock. The Panthers' offense didn't just run through Kucowski, but she seemed to be the final player to touch the basketball as it swung around the perimeter.
Kucowski could see over the York Catholic defense and typically found junior guard Karen Lapkiweicz darting toward the hoop. Lapkiweicz scored a game-high 20 points, including 12 on swift passes from Kucowski, who finished with eight assists.
"It was the best we've run our offense all year," Mancini said.
Certainly, it was better than when his team played York Catholic two years ago in the state semifinals.
"At that time we were a little smaller as a team, but we were a very good 3-point shooting team," Mancini said. "I'm sure he (Bankos) remembered that."
Bankos did, and also noted how well he knew Kucowski could shoot despite just six points in her near-impractical double-double of assists and blocks.
"She shoots even better," Bankos said. "She can bury a 3 from 4 feet from behind the 3-point line."
Kucowski knocked down her only 3-pointer in the first three minutes Tuesday, setting the tone for Saint Basil with a 7-2 lead. The Irish rallied to tie the score at 19 to start the third quarter, but that efficient Saint Basil offense pushed the lead back up to 32-23.
Bankos' squad, which fell last year in the PIAA second round to Dunmore, nearly pulled off the comeback in the final 5:30. It twice pulled within one point in the last minute but could not get closer.
Kucowski made sure of it by denying Hannah Laslo inside with 20 seconds left. She did it again on York Catholic's next possession for her 12th block, before forcing Anne Lehr to rush a potential tying 3 in the closing moments.
Time then ran out on York Catholic, which regrouped one last time in a Coatesville locker room.
"There is no good ending unless there's medals hanging from your neck, so there's nothing profound to say," Bankos said. "I thanked them for the memories. They were a special class."
He will lose five seniors, including four who started all season long.
They helped York Catholic to its last four District 3 championships in a run that has lasted a decade.
Laslo, who scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds, will play basketball next season at Seton Hill. Lehr (10 points) is headed to Lebanon Valley College, while Marissa Ressler (12 points) is bound for Mansfield and Japriya Carroll to Misericordia.
"The most important thing is they'll probably remember these memories more than what they create in college," Bankos said. "It hurts now. It should."
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
YORK CATHOLIC (42)
Anne Lehr 4 2-2 10, Bauhof 2 0-0 5, Ressler 4 3-3 12, Carroll 0 3-5 3, Hannah Laslo 4 4-4 12, Dormer 0 0-0 0, Salter 0 0-0 0, Duchek 0 0-0 0, E. Laslo 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 14 12-14 42.
SAINT BASIL ACADEMY (46)
Karen Lapkiweicz 8 3-6 20, Joyce 1 1-2 3, Kucowski 2 1-2 6 Sloan 1 6-8 8, Napierkowski 3 1-3 7, Buckley 1 0-0 2, Gura 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 16 12-21 46.
York Catholic108519—42Saint Basil1541116—46
3-point goals — YC 2 (Bauhof, Ressler), SBA 2 (Lapkiweicz, Kucowski).