Quick start carries Lebanon Catholic girls to victory
Patti Hower has just one request - no more snow.
Perhaps snow is the only thing that can stop coach Hower’s team as they steamrolled into the PIAA Class 1A Elite Eight courtesy of a 68-33 victory over the Faith Christian Academy Lions at Tulpehocken High School on Thursday night in the second round.
Now 21-8 on the season, Lebanon Catholic will face Pottsville Nativity BVM (14-13) in the quarterfinals Saturday, with site and time to be announced. BVM edged Linden Hall 50-48 on Thursday.
The Beavers' tough regular season schedule has prepared them well for their competition in states. Thursday night’s game was never really in doubt as Catholic never trailed and jumped out to a 17-4 lead after the first quarter.
“Our competition all year long has prepared us for Class A postseason," Hower said. "Class A is where we are. We have 39 girls in grades 9-12, but our competition is so much tougher than everyone else’s.”
But what sets her team apart from the competition is the depth. On Thursday, all of Hower’s players were in the game and eight of them made their way into the boxscore.
“I think overall, we have five pretty solid players out there and three nice subs coming off the bench,” she said. “Most of these teams so far are a two- or three-player team.”
The Beavers, as they’ve done all year, got it done both defensively and offensively. Alexis Hill led the way with 26 points and Celine Mars also hit double digits with 10. MaKenna Purcell (4), Hannah Callihan (2), Neesha Pierre (8), Jasmine Turner (6), Jayden Shellehamer (8) and Leah Pastal (4) all added to the offensive onslaught.
Pierre, Hower’s point guard this season, pulled double duty Thursday, guarding Faith Christian’s best player, Ashley Forker, who entered the game having surpassed the 1,000-point plateau this season. Forker ended the game with just six points.
“Neesha’s just so athletic, can really move her feet, and has those long arms,” Hower said. “I thought Neesha could frustrate her. It is tough (to play the point and guard the opposing team’s best player), but if you notice, she doesn’t change her emotion out there. She’s done a great job as a leader.”
It’s Pierre’s leadership and the steadiness of Mars, who’ve been here before, that have Hill and Jasmine Turner feeling comfortable in their first PIAA tournament.
“Being in the state tournament is surreal to me,” Hill said. “Our team has a lot of potential and skill and I think we’re a good team. At the beginning of the season we had a lot to work on.”
And they’re still coming together and making improvements, which could spell trouble for the other seven teams left in the 1A bracket.
Hower said, “Here in the postseason, starting with the league playoffs, they’ve really started communicating and I don’t even have to call stuff - they know what I’m thinking. So I’m really pleased with our chemistry.”
But it’s not just chemistry alone that has propelled this team.
Hill said, “We have to play every game now like it’s the last because it could be, but we won’t let that happen.”
As they prepared to sit and watch the game between Nativity BVM and Linden Hall, which followed theirs, Hower and Hill both stated that their opponent and location were not the primary concern.
“The kids don’t really care who we play,” said Hower. “As long as we’re playing, I don’t care who we’re playing and there isn’t anymore snow.”