POTTSVILLE -- It had a familiar feel to it. The York Catholic players on the sidelines stood for the final 30 seconds. Most of them raised their index fingers in the direction of the roof covering Martz Hall. York Catholic had earned the right to play one more game, topping Montrose, 60-37, in a PIAA Class AA girls' basketball semifinal.
The Irish will return to the state championship game for the sixth time in seven years.
York Catholic (29-3) gets Seton La Salle -- a 56-50 winner against defending state champion Villa Maria -- for the championship with a noon tipoff Friday at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.
York Catholic players stopped to hug the cheerleaders as they walked off the court. And after pulling on their warm-ups, several Irish players returned to the court to pose for pictures with family and friends. It was a stark contrast from last season, when another District 2 team, Mid Valley, pulled off a shocking 57-56 upset to end York Catholic's season in the state quarterfinals.
"For the seniors, I was very happy because they remembered last year and what (those) seniors felt like," York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos said. "And they said numerous times, 'I don't want to feel like that. (Senior guard) Karli McFatridge said over and over, 'I don't want to feel like that.'"
The Irish win snapped District 2 champion Montrose's 25-game winning streak. York Catholic also ended what Montrose standout Dallas Ely had called a "dream season."
Less than a week after knocking out Delone Catholic and almost matching the offensive production of McDonald's All-American Sierra Moore, Ely looked frustrated in York Catholic's suffocating defense.
After scoring an uncontested layup off the opening tipoff, Ely did not score another field goal until 3:36 of the fourth quarter. Ely -- a West Chester University recruit -- finished with nine points. Double-teamed when she attempted to work off screens, she had few choices: take long-range 3-pointers or pass the ball.
Looking emotional, his tie loosened, the top button of his shirt undone, Montrose coach Al Smith acknowledged the difficulty of facing York Catholic on a neutral floor in the playoffs.
"We're a public school and we're playing a team that's been here -- what? -- six of seven seasons, so their experience helped," Smith said. "It stings right now, knowing the run is over."
Montrose had never advanced this far in the state playoffs. And while a number of Irish fans made the trek to coal country, Montrose fans greatly outnumbered York Catholic fans in Pottsville.
A bus filled with Montrose students arrived about an hour before tipoff. Clad in burgundy and white -- and joined by classmates wearing costumes that included the team mascot (a meteor with legs), the Easter Bunny and Batman -- the Montrose student section conducted group calisthenics before the game as they cheered for the Meteors.
"Our support has been amazing," Smith said. "During the district playoffs it turned into something cool for them."
Montrose fans continued to pat him on the back as he sat near the team bench.
One season had ended, while York Catholic's continued -- at least for a few more days.
And so a year after losing arguably the best player in league history, Kady Schrann, to graduation, the York Catholic girls return to the game they almost always end up playing.
"I'm proud of this program," Bankos said. "We're successful because kids come into this program believing they can be successful."