Occasionally, it’s good to get a much-needed reminder about the true beauty of high school athletics.
When you’ve been in this business for a while, it’s easy to get a bit smug. It’s easy to believe that you know what’s going to happen before it happens. It’s easy to take outcomes for granted.
Then a team comes along that shatters all expectations and confirms one of the oldest platitudes in sports journalism.
“On any given night, anything is possible.”
Yes, it’s a tired, overused cliché, but like most tired, overused clichés, it’s also true.
The Delone Catholic Squirettes proved that recently, writing an astonishing and compelling climax to the 2018-19 York-Adams League basketball story.
At 6 p.m. Thursday evening, if you would’ve polled the sports reporters in attendance at Hershey’s Giant Center and asked them who they thought would win the PIAA Class 3-A girls’ basketball state championship, the answers most likely would’ve been unanimous.
A couple hours later, those reporters would be proven unanimously wrong.
A couple hours later, the Squirettes were hoisting the championship trophy, stunning nearly everyone in attendance, and most everyone in the state basketball community, with their 49-43 triumph. They most likely even shocked themselves.
It was a feel-good story that had to inspire folks throughout the Y-A League and beyond.
Overwhelming favorite: There are favorites, there are prohibitive favorites and then there are overwhelming favorites.
Dunmore certainly would’ve fallen into the latter category.
After all, the District 2 champion Lady Bucks entered the game at 29-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state in 3-A. Some folks in the Scranton area believed they were the best team in the state, regardless of class. They were rarely even challenged during a dominant regular season and postseason.
They had emerged from a stacked eastern half of the PIAA 3-A bracket with impressive wins over previously unbeaten St. Basil, four-time defending state champion Neumann-Goretti and District 3 champion Trinity. All of those teams were ranked in the top five in the state.
Unranked and unappreciated: Delone, meanwhile, entered the game unranked and mostly unappreciated. The Squirettes were unceremoniously bounced in the first round of the Y-A playoffs and had failed to win their district crown.
In fact, in the District 3 3-A final, Delone suffered its second double-digit loss of the season to a Trinity team that Dunmore would humble in the state semifinals, 50-24.
After the district final loss, however, something seemed to click for the Squirettes.
The Trinity loss pushed them into the western half of the state bracket, which turned out to be a blessing. The western bracket was generally considered much weaker than the east. There were good teams out west, to be sure, but none were ranked among the state’s best programs.
Coaching moves work: Delone coach Gerry Eckenrode, meanwhile, tweaked his lineup, giving more playing time to some talented freshmen, and the decision worked to perfection. In fact, nearly every move the veteran coach made during the state playoff run seemed to work.
There were some off-the-court bumps along the way for the often-gruff, old-school Eckenrode. During the playoff run, an assistant coach and a senior player left the team, and one of the team's better players from the 2017-18 team did not go out for the team this season.
Despite all that, the Squirettes started playing their best basketball during the March PIAA journey, traveling to western outposts such as Lewistown and Altoona to beat a pair of district champions.
Still, none of Delone’s wins en route to the state final was all that shocking. Mildly surprising, maybe, but not shocking.
The win over Dunmore, now that was beyond shocking.
Instilling belief: Eckenrode did his best to instill the belief into his team that the impossible was truly possible. He wrote “DELONE SHOCKS DUNMORE” on a white board before the state final. He showed his team the most inspiring underdog movie of all time: “Hoosiers.” And after several sleepless nights, he came up with a game plan that played to his team’s strengths and exploited Dunmore’s weaknesses.
His players rewarded Eckenrode’s faith and late nights with one of the great upset performances in PIAA basketball history, capping a 26-4 season and giving Eckenrode his fourth state title at the McSherrystown school.
It was an outcome that no one saw coming. Certainly not this columnist, who thought Delone was more likely to lose by the mercy rule than to stun the Dunmore juggernaut.
The Squirettes proved us all wrong.
Anything is possible: In the process, they also proved that nearly anything is possible in high school athletics, if you just have enough faith.
It also served as a reminder of the greatest underdog story of all time. It was another tale that was possible only through faith.
David slays Goliath.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at email@example.com.