READING - Each time a shot rattled out at Reading High School's Geigle Complex, players from both teams sensed an opportunity slipping away. The missed shots only intensified the sick-in-the-stomach feeling, players would explain after the game.
"I think we knew that this could potentially be our last game of the season, and that made us very nervous," York Catholic junior Zaenna Echevarria said. "But I think once we rattled them and saw what defense they had and what offense they had and talked about it, that helped us a lot."
During his halftime talk, York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos told his players they looked like they were trying to "perform brain surgery." His message to his players: Don't make this harder than it is, just play basketball.
And that's all that needed to be said, apparently, because in the third quarter, York Catholic ran away with it, en route to a 45-28 victory against Saint Basil Academy in a PIAA Class AA semifinal. York Catholic advances to its seventh state final in eight seasons, a streak that stretches back to 2006. The only year York Catholic failed to advance to a state final during the current eight-year run came when the Irish lost - by a point - in the state quarterfinals in 2011.
The Irish will face Bishop Canevin, a 41-36 winner against defending state champion Seton LaSalle.
"Honestly, I think it was both teams were nervous," York Catholic's Hannah Laslo said about the slow start. "We didn't know each other, and we just had to listen to coach."
The Irish hit six of their first seven shots in the second half, starting the third quarter on a 12-3 run.
Echevarria scored eight of her 10 points in the third, while York Catholic senior Morgan Klunk remained a steady offensive threat - scoring a game-high 14 points.This one was ugly, and frustrating for Saint Basil Academy. Mostly everyone at York Catholic not named Amelia York knows that feeling.
"We just know - and coach always stresses this - it's the first couple minutes of the third quarter that change a team's momentum," York Catholic's Deanna Chesko said. "If we get it: We're gold for the game."
Using one of its best defensive efforts of the season, York Catholic (29-2) held Saint Basil Academy (20-9) to 11-of-45 shooting (24 percent). York Catholic also forced 19 turnovers.
Not a single Saint Basil player reached double figures in scoring, and only two Panthers scored more than one field goal. Saint Basil reserve Sarah Wilson scored seven points.Laslo once again proved to be a force in the paint, pulling down six rebounds in the first quarter. She finished with nine points, nine rebounds and two blocks.
Even now, after advancing to a seventh state final in eight seasons, the importance hasn't been lost on the York Catholic girls' basketball team.
"This is so cool," Laslo said. "I wanted this so bad. I think it's because our whole team worked so hard all season. I feel every team deserves to go to a state championship, just so they know that all that hard work pays off. That's why it's so awesome that we have that opportunity again."
Grateful to be headed back to the championship game, Bankos admitted the pressure is off now - at least in his mind. His squad made it to - as he called it - a "hardware game." His team will be going home with a medal. From a pressure standpoint, York Catholic passed what might have been the toughest game Tuesday night.
"This is the one, this game (the state semifinal) is the hardest one," Bankos said. "I can't imagine losing it (with the state final) right in front of you."
Tickets: York Catholic will sell tickets to the state championship final from noon to 3:30 p.m. today and from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Tickets coast $8 for adults and $4 for students.
YORK CATHOLIC (45)
York 1 0-0 2, Chesko 0 1-2 1, Morgan Klunk 5 4-4 14, Zaenna Echevarria 5 0-0 10, Laslo 3 3-4 9, Ressler 2 4-4 9, McNamara 0 0-0 0, Keffer 0 0-0 0, Demonda 0 0-0 0, Carroll 0 0-0 0, Jones 0 0-0 0, Lehr 0 0-0 0, Salter 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 12-14 45.
SAINT BASIL ACADEMY (28)
Greenberg 1 0-1 2, Fuegel 1 0-1 2, Napierkowski 1 0-0 3, Forst 0 0-0 0, Skalski 2 0-0 5, Mancini 0 0-0 0, Lapkiewicz 2 0-0 4, Sloan 0 0-0 0, Wilson 2 1-2 7, Napierkoki 0 0-0 0, McGowan 0 0-0 0, Donahue 1 0-0 3, Weiss 1 0-1 2, Buckley 0 0-0 0. Totals: 11 1-5 28.
York Catholic 7 12 16 10 -- 45
Saint Basil Academy 7 6 10 5 -- 28
3-point goals -- York Catholic 1 (Ressler); Saint Basil Academy 5 (Wilson 2, Donahue, Skalski, Napierkowski).