HAMBURG - The Lebanon Catholic girls basketball team has had some classic state playoff encounters with fellow perennial power Nativity over the years.
Much to the Beavers' delight, Saturday's encounter in the quarterfinal round of the PIAA Class 1A state tournament wasn't one of them.
Catholic led for all but 15 seconds early in the first quarter on the way to trouncing the District 11 champs by a 58-38 count at Hamburg Area High School.
Now 23-7 and bound for Tuesday's state semifinals against the winner of Sunday's battle between Lourdes Regional and Jenkintown, the Beavers jetted to a 34-14 halftime lead behind 13 first half points from junior forward Alexis Hill and never looked back while moving within two wins of the program's third state title.
Hill finished with a team-high 17 points, and was joined in double figures by Celine Mars (14), Jasmine Turner (13) and floor leader Neesha Pierre, who dropped in 11 points.
"It was a little different, yeah," Lebanon Catholic coach Patti Hower said, comparing Saturday's contest to past state scraps with the Golden Girls. "They (Nativity) were under .500 (going into the postseason) and got better as the season went on, but I told the girls, 'Nativity, though, still knows what it's like to be in the state playoffs, so they're gonna come out play hard because they worked really hard to get to this point.' Talent-wise we were better at every position, but we had to play that way."
The Beavers were indeed more talented, as well as far more athletic, and they proved it throughout, attacking the basket at will - while also getting 3 3-point bombs from Turner - and simply smothering Nativity (14-14) at the defensive end.
Hill, Pierre and Mars, in particular, lived in the passing lanes defensively, forcing Nativity into quick shots and rushed passes galore, while running out to a 17-4 edge after the first quarter that grew to the aforementioned 20-point cushion at half.
"We're a very fast team and an athletic team, so we just look to keep running and keep playing," Pierre said of controlling the pace of the contest. "That's our game, and I think that was kind of hard for them."
"One thing I've really been pleased with since the start of the district tournament is we've come out and put teams away early," Hower said. "Sometimes you let teams hang around and hang around, but we've put teams away early, so I was happy about that."
That may change in the semis, particularly if Lourdes Regional, which has ousted Catholic from states each of the last two years, is waiting. But this Lebanon Catholic team appears to be better equipped for such a challenge, both athletically and emotionally. In short, the Beavers may have a little revenge on their minds if they face their old nemesis on Tuesday.
"Knowing the opponent, I think, will help," Hower said, of potentially meeting Lourdes. "Definitely they'll be psyched, because it's kinda payback time. We've been waiting for this. And if they don't win that's fine, too. We'll play whoever. I'm just happy to be in the Eastern Final."
And one win away from a most coveted opportunity to play for state gold at Giant Center, site of Catholic's 19th District 3 1A title win a few weeks back. For the record, the 1A state championship game is set for Friday at high noon.
"We're just happy to make it (to the semifinals), honestly, " Pierre said. "Last year, we lost this game, this round. So now we're one step away."
Lebanon Catholic 58, Pottsville Nativity 38
Matlock 1 0-0 2, Malacusky 5 3-6 13, Sanders 1 0-0 2, Klembara 0 0-0 0, Ulsh 5 2-7 12 , Rushannon 1 2-2 4, Carpenito 0 0-0 0, McClure 0 0-0 0, Hunyara 1 0-0 2, M. Clarke 1 1-2 3, A. Clarke 0 0-0 0 Totals: 15 8-17 38.
Lebanon Catholic (58)
Hill 7 3-4 17, Pierre 5 1-2 11, Turner 4 2-2 13, Mars 5 4-5 14, Shellehamer 1 0-0 2, Callihan 0 1-2 1 Kline 0 0-0 0, Woodward 0 0-0 0, Purcell 0 0-0 0. Totals:22 11-15 58
Nativity 4 10 9 15 - 38
Lebanon Catholic 17 17 11 13 - 58
3-pointers: N - LC - Turner 3