UNIVERSITY PARK — Northern Cambria’s offense is built around baskets in transition off missed shots and turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Lady Colts, York Catholic found a simple solution to that game plan Friday afternoon in the PIAA Class AA state championship at the Bryce Jordan Center.
They stopped missing shots and turning over the ball.
The Fighting Irish made four straight shots from the field and six in a row from the foul line during a 15-2 run in the second quarter that gave them a lead they never relinquished in a 52-40 victory.
“I think we played a great first quarter and got some of those transition points,’’ Northern Cambria coach Eric Thomas said. “But after that, [York Catholic] really toughened up on defense. Getting out into transition for us was tough, because they were an extremely quick team.
“Five days rest may have been a little bit easier for us, and we could have went out there and ran the court a little bit more, but as far as those transition points, we’ve needed those all season. It’s gotten us to where we are, so not getting those obviously hurts.’’
The Lady Colts, who have run past opponents their entire season, compiling a 29-1 record heading into Friday’s contest, flashed some of that speed in the first quarter. Northern Cambria used a 7-0 run to take a 12-11 lead after a quarter in which York Catholic shot just 5-for-17 from the field.
It all came to a screeching halt following a Janae Dunchack layup that gave NC its largest lead at 16-11 with 7:24 left in the half. York Catholic switched to a zone defense and began taking better care of the ball on offense.
“The zone in the second quarter was something I don’t think they were expecting,’’ York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos said. “So we threw that at them and said ‘let’s see what you got in a half-court game.’
“The beauty of [the Fighting Irish] is that they can play full-court, half-court and adjust on the fly. So I thought we did a good job.’’
As the pace of the game changed, Northern Cambria struggled to adapt, falling behind by 10 when Kady Schrann, the game’s high-scorer with 12 points, hit a jump shot to put the Fighting Irish ahead, 35-25, with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The shot left Northern Cambria in unfamiliar territory. The Lady Colts brought a 28-game winning streak to the championship game and led for most of its only previous loss to Bishop Guilfoyle in the second game of the season.
“[Playing from behind] was hard,’’ Northern Cambria senior Jen Valeria said. “Coach [Thomas] told us to step it up at halftime, but we just couldn’t come out and get the win. We played our hearts out, but we were really tired today for some reason, but we still gave it our all.’’
The Lady Colts had plenty of reasons to feel a bit fatigued Friday afternoon. The game was NC’s third this week, coming off a victory over Girard Sunday and an emotional three-point victory over Bishop McCort in front of a packed house at UPJ’s Sports Center Tuesday. In addition, before Friday, Northern Cambria used only its five starters for most of its playoff minutes.
“The last few games I’ve really seen our legs go down,’’ Thomas said. “I just think the long season got to us. York Catholic has done this a number of times and practiced into March the last few years, and for our girls, going from volleyball, which was also a long season, to these extra practices in March, we sort of tired.’’
Trailing by eight to begin the fourth quarter, Northern Cambria missed eight straight field goals, two free throws and committed five turnovers to fall behind, 46-31, and the Fighting Irish cruised to their third straight state championship from there.
Brittany Sedlock and Breanna Kochinsky led NC with 11 points each.
But for The Lady Colts, who had never experienced a state playoff game before this year, the season will still be remembered as a success.
“This was awesome,’’ Valeria said. “We never dreamed we could get this far, and I love all these girls to death. This has been the [most fun] season of my life.’’
NORTHERN CAMBRIA (40): A. Rocco 3-5 0-1 6, B. Sedlock 5-12, 0-0 11, Valeria 1-10 1-3 4, Kochinsky 4-9 3-4 11, Dunchack 3-9 2-4 8, Kirsch 0-0 0-0 0, E. Krumenacker 0-1 0-0 0, J. Rocco 0-0 0-0 0, Stiles 0-1 0-0 0, B. Krumenacker 0-0 0-0 0, K. Sedlock 0-0 0-0 0, Du,, 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 16-48 6-12 40.
YORK CATHOLIC (52): G. McGann 3-4 3-3 10, Rhein 2-4 0-0 4, Hicks 3-9 2-3 9, Bankos 4-7 3-4 11, Schrann 5-12 2-2 12, Carr 0-0 3-6 3, Gurreri 0-0 0-0 0, M. McGann 1-3 0-0 3, Hake 0-0 0-0 0, Knauer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-39 13-18 52.
Halftime—York Catholic 30, Northern Cambria 23. 3-Point goals—NC 2-15 (B. Sedlock 1-2, Valeria 1-6, Kochinsky 0-5, Dunchack 0-1, Stiles 0-1), YC 3-9 (G. McGann 1-1, Hicks 1-6, Schrann 0-1, M. McGann 1-1). Fouled out—None. Rebounds—NC 28 (B. Sedlock 8), YC 29 (Rhein 9). Assists—NC 8 (Valeria 4), YC 10 (Rhein 3). Total fouls—NC 19, YC 12.
Records: Northern Cambria (29-2); York Catholic (34-1).
Officials: Elaine Anderson, Edward Moeller, George Malanosky.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Northern Cambria seniors (from left) Jen Valeria, Olivia Dumm and Brittany Sedlock hold up the runners-up trophy. To view more photos, go to cu.altoonamirror.com.