HERSHEY — It had to end sometime.
For 10 years in a row, the York Catholic girls' basketball team left the District 3-AA final in Hershey with gold medals.
That record-setting string of dominance, however, is no longer in tact after Thursday's title contest vs. Camp Hill. The Lions, who fell to the Irish in last year's district title game, gained their revenge — with a lot of help from forward Leah Springer.
The 6-foot, 1-inch forward scored a game-high 31 points to go with 17 rebounds to lead Camp Hill to a convincing 54-40 victory.
“She showed why she's a Division I (caliber) player," Irish head coach Kevin Bankos said. "She played great. She played possessed.”
It was certainly a weird feeling for the Irish to stand on the court at the Giant Center while accepting silver medals. Many of the girls in the line had tears in their eyes,
While the loss is certainly upsetting for everyone in the York Catholic locker room, Bankos was quick to put things into perspective.
“We talk about this every year," he said. "And we've been fortunate enough to be on the other side of it every year. But we've said the hardest game we're going to play all year is the semifinal game. This is a game where people are trying to win some hardware, while others are trying to get into the state tournament. We're in it already. I tell our kids that there's more positives in this game than any negatives.”
The contest was a stark contrast to Monday's 80-51 victory in the semifinals against Wyomissing. The two teams traded baskets throughout the first period, which ended in a 13-13 deadlock.
But with the score at 18-18, the top-seeded Lions (22-4) and Springer took over. Springer scored eight points during a 10-2 run to end the first half. She knocked down a pair of big 3-pointers during that spurt, including one that ended the scoring in the half.
“Usually I'll only shoot a three if I'm wide open," Springer said. "I really don't want to force it, but I saw the opening and I took it. And then I made it. Then I just said 'I'm just going to shoot them until they stop me.' But before then I made a couple more.”
The Irish, who rallied in the fourth quarter a year ago to stun the Lions in overtime, did their best to stick with Camp Hill. On three occasions they were able to claw to within five points. But each time they did so, Springer and company had an answer.
“If we could have cut it down more, that would have been huge," Bankos said. "But we were getting one shot and they were getting four. That's tough to compete with.”
Indeed. The third-seeded Irish (20-6) were pummeled on the boards, 49-32. That margin also happens to be the exact number of rebounds collected by Springer (17).
Lions make Bauhof work hard for her 26 points: Irish sophomore standout Kate Bauhof did her best to keep her team within striking distance. After scoring 41 in Monday's triumph, Bauhof was "held" to 26 by the Lions, but she had to launch 27 shots to get that total. She was the only Irish player to reach double figures.
Trying to make Bauhof work for her points was a major focus for Camp Hill, according to their coach, Mark Clark.
“We know that it all starts and ends with her," Clark said of Bauhof. "We were trying our best to collapse on her and deny her the ball, but she still got her's. But I think that overall we did a good job.”
Despite a comfortable lead, Camp Hill didn't relax in the fourth period. Springer remembered how the Irish rallied a year ago.
“I remember thinking when we were up by seven (after the third) that we still had another quarter to go," Springer said. "I wasn't going to let myself get content with where we were.”
Finally, with about 20 seconds left, the senior had the ball in her hands near half court knowing that a celebration was about to break out.
“I was thinking, 'was this really happening?'" she said. "But then the final buzzer sounded and I thought 'hey, we're district champs.' It all happened real fast.”
While the feeling on the bus back to York was no doubt subdued, Bankos won't allow his team to dwell on the negative.
“I told them to go home and enjoy it," Bankos said. "We're still district runner-up and we still have medals around our necks. I think that's important for kids to understand. This is hard. This is hard to get here. I know plenty of people may think it's easy, but this is hard.”
The Irish will now face the third-place team from District 12 on Friday, March 4, in the first-round of the PIAA Class AA state playoffs.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.