Few expected the Susquehannock Warriors to be in this position.
They entered the 2013 District 3-AAA Girls' Basketball Tournament seeded No. 6, with a good, but not great, 15-7 record.
The Warriors started district play with a victory over Conrad Weiser. That was no big surprise. Conrad Weiser came in seeded No. 11 with a 16-6 record. But the 30-point margin of victory (68-38) was unexpected and a portent of things to come.
Susquehannock followed that by stunning No. 3 seed Lancaster Catholic in the quarterfinals, 59-53. Many had probably penciled in Lancaster Catholic into the finals, against fellow unbeaten and No. 1 seed Palmyra. The Warriors ruined that plan.
In the process, they also proved a point to themselves after a series of narrow losses to upper-echelon competition.
"All year, we just couldn't get over the hump by winning big games," Susquehannock coach Dave Schreiner said. "In the Lancaster Catholic game we realized we could win a big game. Actually, I think it started with Conrad Weiser -- it was a 30-point game and I didn't think it would be anywhere near a 30-point game."
Next up for Susquehannock was No. 2 seed West York, a team that had used a 21-3 fourth-quarter surge to erase a nine-point deficit and beat the Warriors in the regular season, 58-49. Susquehannock again built a big lead -- as much as 15 points in the third quarter. West York again stormed back. But this time, the Warriors held on for a 43-42 semifinal triumph on Wednesday.
That put Susquehannock into a district girls' basketball title game for the first time in school history. Standing in the way will be No. 1 seed Palmyra (27-0).
In a way, that makes perfect sense. The Warriors knocked off the No. 3 seed, and then No. 2 seed. The No. 1 seed should logically come next.
The contest will be played at 11:15 a.m. Saturday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
The game will be a classic matchup, pitting Palmyra's size and length against Susquehannock's speed and quickness.
The Cougars are led by 5-foot, 11-inch junior Carly Richardson (15 points, 12 rebounds per game), 5-10 senior Kaitlyn Carmo (11 ppg) and 5-11 sophomore Kristen Smoluk (10 ppg). That trio helped Palmyra pound Gettysburg on the boards in the semifinals on Wednesday, piling up a whopping 74 rebounds. That helped offset a miserable 9-for-64 shooting night (14.1 percent). The end result was a 44-29 victory over Gettysburg. Richardson, who was returning from an ankle injury, pulled down 19 of those rebounds, which took some of the sting out of her 1-for-14 effort from the field.
Susquehannock will counter with a guard-oriented attack that's orchestrated by 5-7 junior Makenzie Fancher.
"We have one of the best point guards in the area (in Fancher)," Schreiner said. "We don't have to worry about: 'can we handle the press.' She runs the team. She's our quarterback. We don't turn over the ball that much."
Fancher, who averages about eight points per game, hit the winning free throw in the waning seconds against West York.
Two other juniors -- 5-6 Katie Wagner and 5-8 Shannon Druck -- lead the Warriors in scoring at about 11 points per game each.
Schreiner will count heavily on Susquehannock's strong guard play against Palmyra.
"(Palmyra is) tall, but I don't think their guard play is as good as West York's," he said. "But they cause problems in other ways with their rebounding and trying to shoot over their length."
Schreiner, 53, is in just his second season at Susquehannock, but he's been around the basketball block. He's been coaching for 26 years, with several stops at schools in Maryland and Wisconsin. He's a teacher Hereford High in Maryland. One of the staples of his coaching philosophy is full-court pressure defense. He's going to rely on that game plan again on Saturday.
"I think our full-court defense will be key," he said. "We need to create turnovers and score consistently. We need to get (offense) out of our defense, and not just rely on our offensive sets. We need to push the basketball and get up and down the floor. We also need to rebound well."
Schreiner hasn't seen much of Palmyra this season, but he was planning to watch a lot of tape Thursday evening. But the Warriors and the Cougars did square off in the first round of districts a year ago. Palmyra, which was also seeded No. 1 in the 2012 tournament, won that meeting, 47-35. Palmyra eventually fell to Lancaster Catholic a year ago in the semifinals and the Crusaders went on to take the title. Palmyra has made the district finals six times in program history, but has never won the crown.
No matter what happens in Saturday's showdown, however, Schreiner believes his team's postseason run (which will include a state playoff berth) will have a positive long-term impact on the program.
"Anytime you have a winning program, the parents flock to that and get their kids involved in that," he said. "The community gets involved and you get the school support. The kids want to be part of something like that."
That's down the road, however. There's a more pressing matter on Saturday, and Schreiner is convinced his team "won't be happy just to be there."
"This is an unbelievable opportunity, and I think our kids are very excited and very focused to do everything they can to make it happen," he said. "I think they're ready to play."
-- Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com.