PIAA GIRLS' BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
WOOD CHOPPERS Catholic dethrones three-time AAA champs, 54-46 BY JASON FULGINITI, Sports Writer
READING -- You'd probably have an easier time convincing a guy to walk into a lion's den wearing a meat suit than you would convincing Lamar Kauffman to play anything but high-pressure, man-to-man defense.
But desperate times call for desperate measures.
A concept that isn't lost on Kauffman.
"I didn't want it to be a sign of weakness," Lancaster Catholic's girls' basketball coach said, "but I spent all week looking at some old tapes. And teams that handled us ... when teams were burning us and spreading us (out on the floor) ... we sometimes would go back into a zone (the next time we played them)."
It's a strategy that paid big dividends Wednesday night.
Using a mix of defenses to turn a nine-point halftime deficit into a six-point lead after three quarters, Lancaster Catholic got the redemption it was looking for with a 54-46 PIAA Class AAA second-round victory over Archbishop Wood at Reading's Geigle Complex.
The win, which avenged the 52-33 pounding they took from Wood in last year's PIAA Class AAA title game, puts the Crusaders (30-1) in Saturday's quarterfinals opposite Blackhawk (25-1), the fourth seed out of District Seven.
Blackhawk advanced with an 82-52 rout of District Six champion Forest Hills (20-5) Wednesday.
The site and time for Saturday's game are to be determined.
"I knew how (Wood) played and I wasn't nervous at all," said Catholic senior point guard and leading scorer Porscha Speller, who spent most of last year's state title game on the bench nursing a sprained knee. "I wasn't going to lose this game."
For a while, it didn't appear the Crusaders were going to have much of a choice.
Despite shooting just 6 for 25 from the floor in the first two quarters, Wood was efficient in what it did get -- shooting 5 for 12 from 3-point range and 8 for 8 from the foul line, while building a 17-13 rebounding advantage.
Many of those boards came on the offensive glass, leading to second-chance points.
After hitting three straight 3-pointers to turn a 7-4 deficit into a 13-7 edge with 2:49 left in the first quarter, another trey from Madison Tamburini pushed the Vikings' lead to 23-14 with 2:36 remaining in the first half.
"At halftime I said 'The only difference in this ballgame is we're not rebounding,' " Kauffman said. " 'You start boxing out and things are going to change.' "
They did -- dramatically -- after the break.
Chucking up one outside shot after another thanks to Catholic's collapsing zone, Wood shot just 2 for 8 in the quarter. The Crusaders were also rebounding better, owning a 19-11 edge in that department by the end of the period.
Meanwhile, after Jackie Pierson nailed a 3-pointer from the top to give Wood its biggest lead of the night (28-18), Speller began taking charge on the offensive end.
Her 3-ball from the top midway through the quarter cut the lead to 31-25, before another trey from the Crusaders' Kirsten Werner whittled the deficit to 31-30.
"I knew I had to get the team hyped," said Speller, who scored 13 of her game-high 24 points in the third quarter. "Once one person gets going, the whole team gets fired up. And I wanted to give us that spark."
In fact, when Speller converted a traditional three-point play with 2:09 left in the third, Catholic had its first lead (33-32) since the first quarter.
Five straight points from Speller to end the third -- including her 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer -- gave the Crusaders a 38-32 edge heading into the fourth.
After Catholic took its biggest lead of the night (44-32) on Speller's drive with 5:38 left to play, Wood never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
"For not having outstanding ability, this team works so hard as a unit," Kauffman said afterward. "Probably more than any team I've had.
"I'm just amazed at how they all work as a unit."
Even on that rare occasion when Kauffman tweaks the game plan.