Riding a sensational, unselfish offensive performance, the Beavers captured their 18th district title with a 67-43 victory over Halifax at Giant Center
HERSHEY - Last year, the Lebanon Catholic girls' basketball team's return to the District 3 Class A throne was more about athleticism and competitive fire than pure basketball acumen.
That was last year. The Beavers are on top again, but this time as a completely dominating, well-oiled basketball machine.
At least they were on Thursday night, operating at an incredibly high level throughout en route to the program's 18th district title via a commanding 67-43 victory over Halifax at Giant Center.
Now 20-6 and bound for the opening round of the PIAA state playoffs next Saturday against the District Four No. 3 seed, Catholic hoisted another trophy as the result of an offensive clinic highlighted by 24 assists on 29 made field goals and an opening 30-8 burst over the first 14 minutes that all but settled the outcome.
Though senior Allie Warren would lead all scorers with 21 points, sophomores Neesha Pierre and Celine Mars, raw freshmen a season ago, were the catalysts for the triumph, combining for 34 points while displaying an understanding and feel for the game that was missing a season ago.
If the Beavers can reach Thursday's level of performance in the state tournament, well, look out.
"I thought we played real well," said Lebanon Catholic coach Patti Hower, her pride in her squad's performance most apparent. "We took what they gave us, and every one of my players is so unselfish. (Watching video from last year) they just see themselves that they got better. Everyone has elevated their game."
None more than Pierre, who slashed her way to the basket for 18 points and added eight assists. The third member of the sophomore trio that has evolved from wide-eyed freshmen to basketball-savvy veterans, point guard Mariah Sholly, added seven assists and Mars and Jayden Shellehamer handed out five and four, respectively.
"We're all a lot smarter and we know each other better," Pierre said of the increased court sense. "None of us are selfish, none of us care about points. We're always going to go with who has the best chance of making that layup or making that shot. That's why we're here."
Because of that, and a decided disadvantage in team speed, Halifax (18-9) never really had a chance.
Buckets from Mars, Pierre, and Shellehamer staked Catholic to a quick 6-0 lead, and by the time Warren scored on a put-back in the waning seconds of the first quarter, it was already a 16-4 game.
Pierre copped to some early jitters, but they were never apparent, from her or anyone else in a Lebanon Catholic uniform.
"We were all nervous at first. I know I was really nervous," she said. "But after it started going we were feeling good and knew we could do it. The nerves went away and we just played."
If the march to the 18th district championship wasn't all but assured by halftime, it was already on the team bus after a 10-2 spurt to close the third that featured eight straight points from Warren, who heated up big time after intermission, and a driving lay-up by Pierre with 10 seconds left for a 50-30 lead.
Then, eight minutes of game action later, a familiar scene ensued: Hower hanging gold medals around her player's necks and a jubilant group of Beavers hoisting the trophy high for all to see.
"I'm proud to say that I go to Lebanon Catholic and I'm coached by Mrs. Hower," Pierre said, "Because she's a great coach and she's known."
And now this group of Beavers is known the way many of Hower's previous champions are - as a team as likely to beat you with its smarts as well as its skill.
"Every one of them I'm just real happy for the kids," Hower said of the significance of No. 18. "They're all special. I don't really think about the number, I just think about 'I want it for this team.'"
This team, a better version of its former self, wanted it, too.
Lebanon Catholic 67, Halifax 43
Brianna Turner 4 0-3 8, Kassidy Sorichetti 3 0-0 8, Brynn Miller 3 0-0 6, Kristina Kelley 2 4-4 8, Julia Hoon 1 0-2 2, Kendall Lehman 2 0-0 4, Mallori Bingaman 0 0-0 0, Lucy Spicher 2 0-0 5, Amanda Acri 0 0-0 0, Hanna Custer 0 0-0 0, Melody Davis 1 0-0 2. Totals — 8 4-9 43. .
Lebanon Catholic (67)
Mariah Sholly 1 0-0 2, Neesha Pierre 9 0-2 18, Allie Warren 9 0-0 21, Celine Mars 7 2-2 16, Jayden Shellehamer 2 0-1 4, Hannah Callihan 1 2-2 4, Faith Kostow 0 1-2 1, Leah Pastal 0 1-2 1, Arianna Clay 0 0-0 0, Alaina Kline 0 0-0 0. Totals — .
Halifax _ 4 _ 11 _ 15 _ 13 _ — _ 43
Lebanon Catholic _ 16 _ 16 _ 18 _ 17 _ — _ 67
3-point goals — H 4 (Sorichetti 2, Spicher), LC 3 (Warren 3)