The Lancaster-Lebanon League girls basketball playoffs have reached the Final Four phase, with a pair of semifinal games featuring a four-pack of section champions on tap for Thursday. Here’s a preview …
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Coach Trevor Orr (3rd season; 46-22 overall) and his Mennonite squad steamrolled to their second section crown in the last three years, with a perfect 10-0 blitz through league play. … Meanwhile, skipper Kendra Merrifield (4th season; 43-44 overall) and her Black Knights successfully defended their section title, and at one point this season, they saw their league winning streak hit 18 games in a row. … Trending: Mennonite has won four out of five; Hempfield is 8-1 in its last nine games.
MENNONITE PROBABLE STARTERS: G Mariah Wilson (league-best 23.9 points per game, 20 3-pointers, league-best 112 free-throw attempts and 72 makes), F Lily Lehman (11.3, 16 3’s), G Jayla Rivera (6.8, 16 3’s), G Kailee Soto (5.2, 14 3’s), F Rebecca Lane (4.7, 2 3’s). … Key subs: G Tiana Delgado (3.4, 7 3’s), F Sophia Denlinger (3.1), F Sheyenne King (2.6, 7 3’s). … Definitely needed the word “probable” there because Orr has been one to tinker with his starting five, as all eight players in his rotation have earned starting gigs at one time or another this season. Do the Blazers go big against Hempfield’s size advantage in the post? We shall see. But all eight of those kids will play — a lot. … Fun fact: Soto is Orr’s daughter.
HEMPFIELD PROBABLE STARTERS: F Lauren Moffatt (9.4, 9 3’s), G Autumn Cook (8.6, 12 3’s), F Orianna Edmond (8.2), G Jess Weinoldt (5.9), G Kira Mattes (4.7, 10 3’s). … Key subs: G Ava Baer (5.3, 9 3’s), G Brynn Axe (4.1, 7 3’s). … Baer and Axe have been instant-offense scorers off the pine, and they’ve chipped in on the baseline and on the boards. … Nothing overly flashy here; Hempfield will grind you out on defense, try and score in transition, and feed the post to get easy looks for Moffatt and Edmond.
WHAT TO WATCH: Mennonite features the league’s scoring champ in Wilson, a Towson University recruit and McDonald’s All-American nominee, so this will be a tough defensive assignment for Hempfield, which never shies away from putting on the clamps. The Knights must also keep tabs on Lehman, a wing shooter and dribble-driver, who is having a breakout ninth-grade season for Mennonite. Definitely keep an eye on the post, where Hempfield twin-towers Moffatt and Edmond have been tough to keep off the glass. As mentioned, Mennonite won’t flash a ton of size, so the Blazers have to find a way to hold their own in the paint. If Moffatt and Edmond are dominating there, watch out.
THE CRUX: Two things for sure; first, can Cook, Hempfield’s heady point guard, remain steady while swerving her way through traffic when Mennonite picks up full-court? And second, can Weinoldt, the Knights’ defensive wizard and glue kid, curtail Wilson? Wilson has been absolutely lights-out lately; she’s scoring at a 28.6 clip with 14 3’s in the last seven games, and she is Mennonite’s all-time leading scorer with 1,764 career points.
THE GAME: Section 3 champ Cocalico (14-2) at Section 4 champ Lancaster Catholic (10-2), Thursday, 7 p.m. ... Catholic is the three-time reigning league champion; only three teams in league history — dating back to 1972-73 — have done that. The Crusaders will go for an unprecedented fourth straight league gold trophy this week.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Coach Andrew Garrett (5th season; 54-53 overall) and his Cocalico crew won their first section title since 2006, and then stormed past Section 2 co-champ Elizabethtown 44-41 with a wild fourth-quarter rally in the quarterfinals. … Coach Charlie Detz (7th season; 174-21 overall) and Catholic survived a late-season two-week coronavirus-induced shutdown to capture their fourth straight section championship — and 24th overall, most in L-L League history — to remain in line for their fourth league crown in a row. The Crusaders are also angling for their 16th league gold trophy. … Rematch alert: Catholic rallied past Cocalico 48-46 in a crossover showdown last Friday. Thursday’s winner goes to the league finale. … Trending: Cocalico is 10-1 in its last 11 games; Catholic has won four in a row.
COCALICO PROBABLE STARTERS: G Hannah Custer (16.9, 9 3’s), G Izzy Mack (9.6, league-leading 31 3’s), G Kiersten Shipton (7.9, 27 3’s), F Olivia Sensenig (4.9), F Naleah Sauder (3.1, 4 3’s). … Key subs: F Teagan Sahm (1.5), F Erin Henry (0.6). … Cocalico’s starting five will see most of the action, although Sahm has become a key contributor off of Garrett’s bench. Meanwhile, Sensenig and Sauder have been ultimate glue-kid weapons, scrapping on the boards and defensively for the Eagles. They'll have to out-glue Catholic on Thursday.
LANCASTER CATHOLIC PROBABLE STARTERS: G Mary Bolesky (11.0, 13 3’s), F Naomi Zulueta (6.8), G Liz Zwally (6.3, 10 3’s), F Sophia Wentz (5.9), G Rylee Kraft (4.1). … For the record, that was Detz’s starting five last Friday, when Cocalico visited Catholic, but he’s been known to tweak his first five to get matchups. … Key subs: G Madelyn Card (4.8), F Vivian Klemmer (2.3), G Autumn Lipson (1.9, 4 3’s), F Mariana DeJesus (1.8, 3 3’s), G Tory Morrall (0.7). … The X-factor is G Jeriyah Johnson (8.3, 6 3’s); Catholic’s crackerjack defender and transition artist has missed the last four games, but she’s due back soon. The Crusaders could certainly use her defensive prowess here against Mack and Shipton, Cocalico’s ace arc shooters.
WHAT TO WATCH: Custer has been otherworldly for Cocalico this winter — she scored 12 points in the fourth quarter in the Eagles’ frantic come-from-behind victory over E-town in the quarters — and Catholic simply can’t let her take over. Easier said than done, but the Eagles must also hang in there against the Crusaders’ unwavering back-court defensive pressure. They did a pretty good job with it in their crossover meeting last Friday. The turnover number will be big here; if Catholic is poking steals and doing its thing, look out.
THE CRUX: Defense should be the name of this game; Catholic must guard the perimeter, where Eagles’ snipers Mack and Shipton have done plenty of damage. And Cocalico must keep Bolesky, the Crusaders’ speedy freshman point guard, from penetrating and dishing for easy buckets. Lastly, as mentioned, Cocalico won’t sub a whole lot, while Detz has a revolving-door of reliable bench kids. Will those subs step up? And will Cocalico have its legs late, if this game goes down to the wire? This is a terrific matchup.