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Lancaster Catholic downs Conrad Weiser 59-44 to punch their ticket to the District 3 Class AAA girls' championship game on Wednesday, February 24, 2016. John Buffone

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HERSHEY — For much of their District 3 semifinal contest, the Lancaster Catholic girls’ basketball team put the ‘cruise’ in Crusaders.

Racing out to a fourteen-point first quarter lead, Lancaster Catholic ran past Conrad Weiser,59-44, Wednesday at the Hershey Giant Center to advance to Saturday’s District 3 triple-A finals.

There, the No. 7 Crusaders (27-1) will face top-seeded Berks Catholic (21-5), a 48-31 winner over Greencastle-Antrim in Wednesday’s other semifinal. Saturday’s final is scheduled for 11:15 a.m. back at the Giant Center.

“I love playing with these girls,” said LC senior Annaliese Schreder, who contributed seven points in the opening quarter while being the catalyst for the Crusaders’ pressure defense. “It’s been my favorite year so far and just being able to go for the district finals and have a chance to fight for a district championship, it’s so amazing. We’re excited.”

Catholic opened the contest with six points in the paint before Schreder drained a 3-pointer for an early 9-2 lead. A pair of steals by Julia Breit (eight points) and three-ball from freshman Kiki Jefferson helped to extend the lead, while the Scouts (15-10) struggled with eight turnovers.

“We took the ball out of (Scouts’ point guard TaCari Talford’s) hands on purpose and it makes them have a little different game plan instead of having (Talford) run their offense,” explained LC coach Charlie Detz. “The way Annaliese denies her, not only in the half-court set but full-court set, helps the whole team. We try to set that tone early with our pressure and tonight it worked.”

Trailing 18-4 after the first quarter, Talford and the Scouts mounted a comeback, with the junior point guard tallying 11 of her team-high 16 points in the second.

But Weiser’s flow was clearly inhibited as they tried to battle back.

“We obviously want to take the ball out of the hands of their best player,” said Schreder, having face-guarded Talford all game long. “We thought if we shut her down we can shut their whole team down and I think we did that today.”

Leading 28-17 at the half, the Crusaders extended their lead to 39-23 midway through the third quarter after a three-pointer from Corina Rivera, a steal and dish from Rivera to Lauren Mills (seven points), and a give and go in the corner between Schreder (14 points) and Lily Fritz for an easy layup inside.

“We knew we couldn’t just go out there and play (poorly),” Schreder said of the third quarter. “The first five minutes is what determines how the rest of the game will go. We knew we had to go out there and play hard.”

“I think the biggest challenge we had was their transition offense because when we were in our press we missed a couple assignments in the back for easy layups,” explained Conrad Weiser coach Mark Owens. “Those, from an offensive efficiency standpoint, were kind of painful for us.”

Conrad Weiser, which will battle No. 5 Greencastle-Antrim (22-3) in the District 3 third-place game to determine seeding for the PIAA tournament beginning next week, cut the Crusaders’ lead to just six points late in the third quarter, refusing to go away. Derra Townes chipped in 15 for the Scouts, 11 coming in the second half.

“These teams are all going to be good and they’re all wanting to fight and keep their season alive and go for district gold,” Detz said of the Scouts’ comeback effort throughout the game, “so we expected them to keep fighting and they didn’t disappoint.”

Jefferson, who tallied nine of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, helped to put the game away as Catholic reestablished their double-digit lead early in the fourth.

“They’re built to go far, I don’t think they’re missing anything,” Owens said. “They can pressure, they can shoot threes. They have length, they have a special freshman. They have nice ingredients to do well Saturday, and make a nice little run in states.”

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Lancaster Catholic 59, Conrad Weiser 44

Conrad Weiser (44)

TaCari Talford 5 6-10 16, Derra Townes 6 3-4 15, Chelsea Erkes 1 0-0 3, Nicole Kopcik 1 0-0 3, Elise Paskowski 1 1-1 3, Lauren Conden 1 0-0 2, Gillian Koch 1 0-0 2, Kiersten Ingram 0 0-2 0. Totals 16 10-17 44.

Lancaster Catholic (59)

Kiki Jefferson 6 7-8 20, Annaliese Schreder 5 3-4 14, Julia Breit 4 0-2 8, Lauren Mills 2 3-6 7, Corina Rivera 2 1-3 6, Caroline Scarff 1 2-2 4, Crista Ricci 0 0-0 0, Lily Fritz 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 16-25 59.

CW _ 04 _ 13 _ 16 _ 11 _ — _ 44

LC _ 18 _ 10 _ 13 _ 18 _ — _ 59

3-Point Goals — CW 2 (Erkes, Kopcik); LC 3 (Jefferson, Schreder, Rivera)

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