HERSHEY — From a certain standpoint, Lancaster Catholic’s effort in Saturday’s District 3 AAA title game was all about title defense.
Not that the Lady Crusaders were coming off a championship last year; their most recent gold-medal effort came in 2012.
But the 2016 version had the defense to win the title, and it showed in a myriad of ways as the Lady Crusaders dominated Berks Catholic at the Giant Center in Hershey with a 38-27 victory to claim this year’s AAA crown.
“We’ve been great defensively all year but that effort that I just watched was the cream of the crop,” stated Crusaders’ second-year coach Charlie Detz. “We did things that we write down that we wanted them to do, but they went out and did it, it was amazing.”
The ‘championship defense’ started by accumulating eight first period turnovers from a Berks squad that came into the season with four new starters surrounding senior center Devon Merritt, and garnered the top seed in the tournament.
As such, it was the No. 7 Crusaders (28-1) who showed their poise and four-quarter intensity, a common mantra uttered again Saturday by senior center Caroline Scarff.
“We had control of that game the whole time,” Scarff said, bucketing a pair of field goals while locking down the 6-foot-2 Merritt in the post throughout the game. “They have some very good players; we knew we had to play defense the whole time, box out, grabbing rebounds and I think that’s what dictated the game.”
Catholic led 9-5 after Scarff’s transition jumper to end the first quarter, the lead quickly expanding to 13-5 after successive steals and layups by senior Annaliese Schreder (five points) and freshman Kiki Jefferson (eight points) in the second.
Armed with a six-point lead at halftime, Catholic’s Julia Breit garnered a trio of steals and scoring eight of her nine points to thwart the Saints attempt at a comeback.
“We started to look a little too much into Devon and wanting her to carry us, because she does carry us a big deal,” said Saints coach Bob Birmingham. “We weren’t rotating the ball from one side to the other which we did really well the other night. That’s testament to their pressure because they get out and guard you.”
Switching at will between a full-court press and doubling-down inside, the Crusaders forced 26 turnovers by Berks Catholic (21-6), which found scoring from just three players in Merritt (14 points), Taylor Keys (eight points), and Abigail Gaffney (five points).
In addition, Merritt and sophomore Dejah Terrell combined for 21 rebounds and a dozen blocks as the Crusaders never threatened to break-out offensively.
Then again, they didn’t need to, either.
“Merritt is a very good player, we knew defensively we needed to restrain her but that just goes to show we’re not a one-man team,” Scarff said. “If I don’t score, you’ve got Annaliese, you’ve got Kiki, you’ve got Lauren Mills, anyone else can penetrate and score.”
From an offensive standpoint, Mills (10 points, 4 steals, 2 blocks) hit an early three-pointer and played aggressively inside from there on out to pace Catholic, which held on to victory despite sinking just 10 of 26 free-throws.
Again, making the Crusaders’ tradition of defense all the more important.
“This group is creating its own identity, they’re going out and playing at a level defensively I haven’t seen before,” Detz said, garnering his first championship as a coach and recording his 50th win at Lancaster Catholic after a pair of previous stops.
“I told them the other night I was 0-2 at the Giant Center so now I evened my record up, they’re happy about that. You say something in passing and think nothing of it, (the players) repeat it three weeks later. They really take it to heart, they listen, and I’ve been having a ball.”
As is the team, evident in the faces of the seniors Schreder and Scarff, and the exuberance of relative youngsters Jefferson and Mills.
“The last time Lancaster Catholic was able to win districts, I was in eighth grade,” Scarff began, “so I missed the team that won it. This is amazing, this is the best feeling ever.”
Which provides plenty of incentive to maintain that title defense.
Lancaster Catholic 38, Berks Catholic 27
Lancaster Catholic (38)
Lauren Mills 3 3-6 10, Julia Breit 3 3-6 9, Kiki Jefferson 2 4-10 8, Annaliese Schreder 2 0-0 5, Caroline Scarff 2 0-2 4, Corina Rivera 1 0-2 2, Lily Fritz 0 0-0 0, Crista Ricci 0 0-0 0, Heather Jones 0 0-0 0, Peyton Jacquis 0 0-0 0, Molly Hackman 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 10-26 38.
Berks Catholic (27)
Devon Merritt 4 6-8 14, Taylor Keys 3 2-4 8, Abigail Gaffney 2 0-0 5, Dejah Terrell 0 0-0 0, Olivia Zdradzinski 0 0-0 0, Taylor Dimmerling 0 0-0 0, Anne Baney 0 0-0 0, Nara Goerner 0 0-0 0, Erin Doyle 0 0-0 0, Meghan Leininger 0 0-0 0, Lexus Lockhart 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 8-10 27.
LC _ 09 _ 08 _ 10 _ 11 _ — _ 38
BC _ 05 _ 06 _ 06 _ 10 _ — _ 27
3-Point Goals — LC 2 (Mills, Schreder); BC 1 (Gaffney)