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Lebanon Catholic grabs state title shot

It wasn't easy, but the Beavers survived Jenkintown, 41-37, in a PIAA Class 1A semifinal on Tuesday night.

NEW HOLLAND - The Lebanon Catholic girls basketball program has been to the top of the state hoops mountain twice in its glorious history.

The Beavers aren't quite there again just yet, but they've got a gorgeous view of the summit from where they're standing right now.

It wasn't without its nail-biting moments of distress, but Catholic will make its third state championship game appearance on Friday after surviving a stubborn Jenkintown outfit on Tuesday night, 41-37, in a topsy-turvy PIAA Class 1A semifinal at Garden Spot High School.

Now 24-7 and looking to add a state crown to the ones the 1992 and 1995 teams captured, this year's edition of the Beavers will take their shot at gold Friday at high noon at Giant Center against Juniata Valley, a 46-33 winner over Bishop Carroll in Tuesday's other semifinal.

It certainly looked like it would be that way after Catholic jumped on the District 1 champs with a 17-8 run through the opening quarter. And then not so much, after go-to girl Alexis Hill picked up her fourth foul late in the third and watched helplessly from the bench as the Drakes (25-7) got back in the game and stayed there until the Beavers got a key defensive stop in the dying seconds - along with two Hill free throws - to survive.

"I'm in awe. This is crazy," said a beaming Hill after dropping in a game-high 20 points, including two sigh-of-relief free throws with 0.4 seconds left. "It's been a great journey so far; I'm just really excited to go back to Giant Center (where Catholic won its 19th district title a few weeks back) and hopefully get my first (state title)."

Coach Patti Hower, who's seen and done it all throughout a legendary 39-year coaching career at Catholic, is every bit as excited as state title game newbies like Hill.

"It's been 22 years," Hower said wistfully. "This is a great group of kids and I just want them to experience that. It's a lifelong memory. I can remember '92 and '95 like it was yesterday. It's something they'll never forget."

The way they began Tuesday's contest, it appeared the Beavers had already detected a whiff of chocolate in the air, dashing to the aforementioned 17-8 lead after one behind 6 points apiece from Hill and junior guard Jasmine Turner. The 17 points represented the entire total that defensive-minded Jenkintown had allowed in its quarterfinal win over Lourdes Regional and put a feeling of game, set and match, Lebanon Catholic, even that early in the game.

But to Jenkintown's credit, it refused to be steamrolled. Led by junior guard Jennifer Kremp's 14 points, the Drakes pulled to within 17-13 midway through the second, although the Beavers ended the half on a Hill-led 11-3 run to go up 28-16 at the half.

"In our games we like to get off to a fast start and tonight we got off to a fast start," Hill said. "We set the tone and had some momentum."

And the Beavers needed every bit of it to survive down the stretch, though it didn't seem it would be that way at the time.

Catholic actually grew its lead to 34-18 on a Neesha Pierre bucket two minutes into the second half, only to see Jenkintown rise from the ashes and outscore Catholic 19-7 the rest of the way to inject some unexpected drama into the affair.

The Drakes got to within 36-24 after three, about a minute after Hill went to the pine with her fourth foul, and even with the Beavers' catalyst back on the floor, nearly pulled even at 39-37 on a Kremp three with 27 ticks left. Missing the front end of three one-and-ones in the final minute certainly didn't help matters for Catholic.

"Obviously, we have not played many minutes on the floor without Alexis," Hower said. "We looked a little bit out of sync. And once Jenkintown cut into that lead they really upped their defense and made it tough for us. "

But while they faltered, the Beavers would not crumble.

"They were very stoic, but they weren't panicking," Hower said. "They've been very business-like, I was glad to see them get a chance to celebrate. They never showed that excitement. They were all business, because they knew what our goal was."

One goal to go. Appointment time: High noon Friday.

"That's just a good win," Hower said. "I'm so excited for them."

Lebanon Catholic 41, Jenkintown 37

Jenkintown (37)

J. Krump 4 3-4 14, M. Kolb 1 1-2 3, N. Kolb 0 3-4 3, Arena 5 2-2 13, A. Kremp 1 0-0 2, Mulvaney 1 0-0 2. Totals: 12 9-12 37.

Lebanon Catholic (41)

Hill 7 6-10 20, Pierre 3 1-2 7, Turner 4 0-0 8, Mars 1 0-0 2, Shellehamer 2 0-0 4, Callihan 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 7-12.

Jenkintown 8 8 8 13 - 37

Lebanon Catholic 17 11 8 5 - 41

3-pointers: J - J. Kremp 3, Arena.