HUMMELSTOWN — If it can be said in the game of football that defense wins championships, then parodies between the game of football and the game of basketball were abundant in the Cocalico Lady Eagles’ 24-21 loss to Lower Dauphin Tuesday night in the first round of the District 3 Quad-A playoffs.
“Nice football score,” deadpanned Cocalico head coach Tony DiMatteo, obviously disappointed with the outcome. “This one I really wanted. Win a district game, move on, and try to get to states. I thought the girls would really enjoy that.”
Instead, the Lady Eagles (18-6), the No. 10 seed in the bracket, go home early despite putting together another strong season behind senior leaders Emily White, Megan Gingrich, and Jasa Lorah.
No. 7 Lower Dauphin (19-6), meanwhile, advances to face No. 2 Governor Mifflin, a 44-39 winner over New Oxford, in the quarterfinals. That game is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Penn Manor High School.
“It’s been so long since we won a first round game,” said Falcons’ coach Bob Heusser. “It’s nice to win one, whether it’s ugly or not. I think when you get to this game … a lot of teams know what you’re doing. It’s a grind game. Both teams are like that.”
After an oppressive zone defense held Cocalico at bay throughout the first half, staking Lower Dauphin to an 18-9 halftime lead, Cocalico rallied with strong defense of its own in holding Lower Dauphin scoreless through the fourth quarter.
“Defensively we were fine,” DiMatteo said. “I thought coming into the game we were going to be fine, the challenge was going to be putting the ball in the basket and we couldn’t do it. We just couldn’t do it.”
Both teams were led by their starting centers. Gingrich led all scorers with 11 points, including a personal 5-0 run to get Cocalico to within 22-16 in the third quarter.
“She played hard, she played hurt the second half of the year, that’s no secret,” DiMatteo said of his senior center. “She has a big heart. She drove inside hard, she scored some points for us. We just needed a second scorer to step up.”
The Falcons finished off the third quarter with a bucket from Livi Friedrich coming off an assist from center Sarah Gibbs, the two players pacing Lower Dauphin with seven points apiece.
Gibbs also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, while Cocalico hit just 1-of-15 shots from three-point range.
Emily Fassnacht’s fourth-quarter trey broke an 0-for-10 slump behind the arc and closed the Eagles to within the final margin, 24-21, with 6:06 left to play. From there the teams went scoreless, Lower Dauphin turning the ball over seven times, including five travel calls, a backcourt violation, and pass out of bounds.
The Falcons also missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on three occasions inside of the final minute.
“If you would have told me they scored 24 points I would have been elated,” said DiMatteo. “I’ll take one more point than them. But if you told me we scored 21, I would have been shocked.”
White, who averages 16 points a game, hit just a lone bucket for the game, although she was twice called for a charge at the baseline, on one occasion after scoring what would have been a clutch bucket.
“Alex Leader took two big charges which I thought were huge plays,” Heusser said of his senior-led defense. “I just felt we kept defending, we kept rebounding. I think we got to the point where we just thought, can we hang on?”
“I can’t take anything away from their defense because their kids hustle and scrap,” DiMatteo said. “I think from halftime, my kids were right there. I think we had them on the ropes, playing here against them. It was for the taking. I said if we get even with them the game is over, we just have to get even with them. We didn’t get it.”
It goes without saying how successful Cocalico’s senior class has been, as White graduates as the third-highest scorer in Lady Eagles’ history, with Gingrich and Lorah also asserting themselves in the Cocalico annals in rebounds and assists.
“It’s my fifth year coaching and I’ve had them all four,” DiMatteo said, also mentioning the hard work of reserves Adrienne Peters and Olivia Fassnacht.
“(Megan’s sister) Marissa Gingrich, she always calls me her coach,” DiMatteo said of another former standout, who graduated two years ago. “These girls, I’ll always be their coach. They’re my players. That’s for a lifetime.”
Lower Dauphin 24, Cocalico 21
Megan Gingrich 5 1-2 11, Emily Fassnacht 1 1-2 4, Lyndsay Engle 1 0-1 2, Emily White 1 0-0 2, Maddie Bock 1 0-0 2, Jasa Lorah 0 0-0 0, Sophie Benson 0 0-0 0, Samantha Klumpp 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 2-5 21.
Lower Dauphin (24)
Sarah Gibbs 2 3-4 7, Livi Friedrich 3 0-1 7, Alex Leader 1 0-0 3, Amber Schweiger 1 0-1 2, Paulina Malinen 1 0-1 2, Candace Means 1 0-0 2, Jennifer Abraham 0 1-2 1. Totals 9 4-9 24.
COC _ 02 _ 07 _ 07 _ 05 _ — _ 21
LD _ 06 _ 12 _ 06 _ 00 _ — _ 24
3-Point Goals — Cocalico 1 (Fassnacht); Lower Dauphin 2 (Livi Friedrich, Alex Leader)