HERSHEY — Someday it will be inevitable that the York Catholic girls' basketball team fails to win a District 3-AA title.
Thursday, however, wasn't that day.
While there were a handful of bumps on the road, a pair of juniors — Hannah Laslo and Anne Lehr — were primarily responsible for making sure that the York Catholic girls were once again the ones hoisting a trophy.
Laslo and Lehr proved to be keys Thursday night as the Irish faced fellow York-Adams League Division IV rival Delone Catholic in the district title tilt at the Giant Center. A captain on the club this year, Laslo registered game highs in both points (17) and rebounds (12), while Lehr poured in 15 more points to lead York Catholic to a 50-40 victory.
The triumph marked a District 3-record ninth title in a row for the York Catholic program, the last four of which have come at the hands of the Squirettes.
"This is just so awesome," Laslo said. "It means so much to me because it just shows how much work we've put in and we've come so far since the beginning of the year."
That beginning included her team's first loss (45-41) of the season against Delone back on Jan. 10 in addition to setbacks against Dallastown and Susquehannock. The Irish, however, rebounded back from those losses by downing all three of those clubs consecutively earlier this month, starting with a 57-55 victory over the Squirettes on Feb. 4.
"We lost a couple of games, but it started to turn with that winning streak that (began) with (the Delone game)," Laslo said. "That kind of showed us that we can play at this level and make an impact."
Over the years the Irish have been able to rely on strong senior leadership to help steer the cause. With that said, this pair of juniors will probably be looked upon a year from now to keep the current streak alive.
Lehr was the spark-plug early as she scored seven of her points in the first quarter to propel the Irish to a 12-6 lead. Laslo, a 6-foot presence inside the paint, scored six points in the second period as York Catholic extended the advantage to 25-18 by the break.
"We felt like we had an advantage inside," Bankos said. "But it certainly starts with our guards and that frees (Hannah) up there. Anne Lehr handled the pressure really well. And when Hannah is freed up in the middle, she knows how to finish."
Lehr was one the Irish guards, along with Deanna Chesko, tagged primarily with helping to contain Delone standout Maddie Comly. Comly came into the contest averaging 17.7 points a game but was held to just two through the first three quarters.
"They really wanted to play her in the first half," Bankos said of Lehr and Chesko. "And they played perhaps the best guard, in my opinion, in the league and held her to just two points in the first half."
It's hard to contain a player like Comly for a whole 32 minutes of action. And, sure enough, the Delone standout got herself on track with a layin early in the fourth quarter. That was just two of 11 points that Comly scored down the stretch.
A 3-pointer and a pair of free throws drew Delone to within three (37-34) with 4:05 remaining.
Down the stretch, however, it was the Irish free-throw shooting that proved to be the deciding factor. Chesko answered with a pair of free throws to bump the lead back to five at 39-34.
Those attempts from the foul line were two of eight free throws that the Irish converted in a row which stretched the lead to nine (45-36). Collectively, the Irish knocked down 17 of 22 attempts (77 percent).
"That was one of our points of emphasis," Bankos said. "We felt that we had to get to the foul line. One, because we're a pretty good foul shooting team, and two, if they're fouling, someone is in foul trouble."
While the Irish did a good job on Comly for much of the night, Delone coach Gerry Eckenrode felt his team did itself no favors in terms of shooting. The Squirettes finished the night 14 of 44 from the field (32 percent).
"To me, the difference in the game was our shooting percentage," Eckenrode said. "They shot better than we did and they won. We had some good open looks in the first quarter and a half. And if you can't make anything, you can't make anything. You're not going to win a ballgame."
"That said, I think our kids played hard," Eckenrode added. "They gave it everything they could out there."
Winning District 3 titles is seemingly somewhat routine for York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos, owner of eight of those medals. Still, the feelings and emotions involved with everything never stagnate one bit.
"This feels like the first one," Bankos said. "And that's what we told the girls. This is theirs. The nine (in a row) and the streaks...that's for some day, but today's not that day."
OTHER GIRLS' BASKETBALL
Red Lion 49, Mechanicsburg 44: At Northern, the Lady Lions opened a 27-19 lead at the half and went on to capture the victory. Morgan Kuehne led Red Lion with a game-high 16 points. Teammates Courtney Dimoff and Devan Horka each knocked in 10 points. With the victory, Red Lion (17-9) secured fifth place in the District 3 Class AAAA Tournament, and moves on to the PIAA State Tournament. The Lady Lions will face the Spring Ford-North Penn winner from the District 1 championship game that will be played on Friday.
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.