Crusaders turn away Knights
BY ED GRUVER, Sports Writer
Their defense was spread out.
Their vaunted press broken.
Trailing Hempfield by five points two minutes into the second quarter of Tuesday night's L-L League quarterfinal at Lancaster Catholic, the reigning girls' basketball champs suddenly found themselves fighting to keep their composure as well.
"We were a little rattled," Crusaders senior forward Emily Martin admitted.
"They caught us off guard. We didn't expect them to come at us like that."
Thanks in part to Martin, who tied teammate Danielle Atkinson for game-high honors with 14 points and added a team-best 13 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals, the Crusaders escaped with their closest win this winter, a 43-39 final.
It was a far from perfect performance by Catholic, but it nonetheless keeps the Section Four champs perfect at 23-0 heading into Thursday's semifinal with Elco.
The Section Three runner-up Raiders (15-8) eliminated Section Two champ Ephrata, 35-26.
Catholic, seeking its second straight L-L title and girls' record 11th overall, will rematch with the Raiders at 7 p.m. at Warwick.
The Crusaders won the first meeting, 72-58, on Jan. 11.
"They're like (Hempfield)," Crusaders coach Lamar Kauffman said of the Raiders. "They're a well-coached team that's improved as the year has gone on."
If they've improved as much as Kauffman believes Hempfield has, the Crusaders could have another fight on their hands.
With sophomore forward Alecia Rohrer battling Martin beneath the boards and coming away with a game-high 16 rebounds and a team high-tying 12 points and two blocks, and with senior guard Hannah Kelly scoring 12, the Knights took the game to Catholic.
Hempfield led 13-8 early in the second quarter, but Catholic's pressing and trapping began taking a toll. A 10-2 run fueled on turnovers and layups led to a 21-18 Crusader halftime lead.
"At some point in the game, our press is going to take hold," Kauffman said.
The Knights (17-6) fought to within a point late in the third before Martin scored four unanswered points.
A Lil Veronis free throw with 4:24 left gave Catholic the biggest lead either side enjoyed at 35-29.
But Hempfield wasn't done. Haley Eager's corner 3-ball and Kelly's steal and layup cut the Knights' deficit to a point with 2:19 to go.
The Crusaders' next trip up the court proved crucial. Martin and Veronis ripped down critical rebounds to maintain possession, and Atkinson followed with a four-point play -- a fall-away trey and free throw.
It proved to be the tipping point. And it served to keep Catholic on track to a title.
"It really does mean a lot to us," Martin said of repeating. "But we can't be in the final before we're there."
Note: Kauffman said star guard Porscha Speller was cleared to play Tuesday afternoon after suffering an apparent concussion recently. Speller scored five points, some 13 below her team-high average.