York Catholic s Zaenna Echevarria, right, battles St. Basil Academy s Karen Lapkiewicz for possession of the ball.
York Catholic s Zaenna Echevarria, right, battles St. Basil Academy s Karen Lapkiewicz for possession of the ball. (John A. Pavoncello photo)

READING --York Catholic needed a half to get its offense flowing in Tuesday night's Class AA state semifinal.

The Fighting Irish's opponent, St. Basil Academy, never did find a rhythm. The Panthers remained cold from the field for the entire 32 minutes.

Credit that, in large part, to York Catholic's defense.

The Fighting Irish 'D' didn't rest, contesting the shooters and sealing off the slashers well enough to help deliver a 45-28 victory and a place in the PIAA AA championship game for the seventh time in eight years.

York Catholic, 29-2, will take on Bishop Canevin, 26-4, for the Class AA title at noon Friday at the Giant Center in Hershey.

The Fighting Irish, leading by just six points at halftime, outscored St. Basil Academy, 26-15, in the second half. The Panthers went through an 8-minute, 32-second scoring drought bridging the third and fourth quarters before finally getting a basket with just 47.5 seconds remaining in the game.

"We focused on defense the whole time we prepared for this team," York Catholic head coach Kevin Bankos said. "They have so many 3-point shooters. We were making sure that we had everyone in the defensive position where we needed them."

The emphasis on defense in practice paid off in the game.

St. Basil Academy connected on just 6 of 25 shots from the field in the second half (24 percent) , and it was 6 of 24 from 3-point range (25 percent) for the game.

"I thought the kids played extremely well," Bankos said. "I was very pleased with our defense."

The offense, after struggling in the first half, came out on fire in the third quarter. The Fighting Irish nailed their first six shots and were 8 of 12 for the quarter.

"The first half, we were a little bit nervous," York Catholic junior Zaenna Echevarria said. "To know that potentially it could be our last game made us nervous. But once we came out in the second half and made some shots, we were all right."

Echevarria was successful on 4 of the 5 shots she attempted in the third quarter.

"When I came out (in the third quarter) and hit my first shot, I felt more confident," she said. "My teammates were supporting me telling me I could do it."

Echevarria finished with 10 points.

Morgan Klunk led the Fighting Irish with 14 points, and Hannah Laslo and Marissa Ressler added nine points apiece to the well-balanced attack. Ressler came off the bench to deliver five points in the second quarter and four points in the fourth quarter.

York Catholic was outstanding at the foul line, knocking down 12 of 15 attempts.

"When we get points across the board (from a number of different players), that's when we play our best game," Echevarria said. "It's pretty hard to shut a whole team down."

Echevarria and her teammates will now turn their focus to preparing for the biggest game of the season.

"It means a lot to be going back to the state championship game," Echevarria said. "We weren't expected to go. We lost three senior starters (from last year's team). I'm very excited for Friday."

-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin da@yorkdispatch.com.