HERSHEY — Carly Forse looked up into the Bishop Canevin cheering section with about 15 seconds left and finally had a sense of relief.
Forse and the Crusaders closed out the team's first appearance in the state's biggest scholastic basketball tournament with a defensive stand to head home to western Pennsylvania with a title.
Forse and Celina DiPietro each had 18 points, and Bishop Canevin held York Catholic without a field goal in the fourth quarter until the game's waning seconds in a 45-38 win in the opening game of the PIAA's championship weekend.
"Unbelievable," Forse said afterward while holding the championship trophy. "I couldn't think of anything better for my senior year."
Forse added three steals, while Erin Waskiowiak had a solid all-around game with five points, six assists and seven rebounds for Bishop Canevin (27-4), which trailed 33-28 going in the fourth quarter. Until then, York Catholic forward Morgan Klunk (18 points, seven rebounds) dissected the Crusader defense and capitalized on the foul line (5 of 6).
It all changed in the fourth quarter.
York Catholic (29-3) got sloppy with three turnovers in the final stanza's opening three minutes. Bishop Canevin stayed patient in half-court sets before pouncing on the Irish mistakes. They held an 18-7 edge on points off turnovers.
Crusaders coach Tim Joyce said he had his team start trapping high ball screens. York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos thought his team was forcing shots.
"Good defense can do that to you. The game was a game of runs," Bankos said. "We knew they were going to make a run — I just didn't know when."
But York Catholic didn't counter the Crusaders' last outburst. After looking like the best player on the court for the first three quarters, Klunk didn't take many shots down the stretch.
Whatever Joyce said in the huddle before the fourth quarter, it worked.
"I think they knew," he said. "It was do-or-die. It was a tremendous effort."
Bishop Canevin outscored York Catholic in the fourth 17-5, and DiPietro's driving layup with about 5:20 left finally putting the WPIAL champs up for good.
Until then, the teams traded runs in a tight game that pitted Bishop Canevin's crisp offense against York Catholic's zone defense and the outstanding play of Klunk. Zaenna Echevevarria added seven points, while Hannah Laslo had four points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
The Crusaders finally shook off a case of nerves in the fourth quarter. It was the program's first appearance in the finals, after all.
"We really stepped it up, pressured them hard and got up on them," Forse said, "We really made an impact at the end."
The Fighting Irish looked cool pregame, laughing during their stretching routine and checking messages on their smartphones on the floor of a nearly empty Giant Center. The state tournament returned to Hershey after a six-year run at the Jordan Center on the Penn State campus in State College.
York Catholic won the Class AA title in 2006, the last time the PIAAs were in Hershey. The Irish won the next two seasons, but lost their next three title games - missing the finals only in 2011.
The stretch of futility extended to four straight championship game losses on Friday.
Still, getting to Hershey isn't a bad consolation prize. Right before the game, when the lights were turned down for a pregame introduction routine that tried to have the high-tech flavor of an NBA game, Bankos turned to his players.
"This is what it's all about," he said in recounting his pep talk. "This is why (the outcome) doesn't matter. "That's a memory (they kids) will take with them and live forever."
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP