SHILLINGTON — For the Susquehannock girls' basketball team, the allure of just being in the state playoffs was eventually replaced by a feeling that it could win the whole thing.
That feeling got stronger after the team booked a spot in the PIAA Class 5-A quarterfinals last week.
Before that, there was a sense of satisfaction in just being in the tournament and winning two games for the first time in program history. As the teams dwindled, however, and the Warriors found themselves left among the elite teams in the state, a belief started to emerge that they could bring home a state championship.
That dream, however, came to a disappointing end on Tuesday night at Governor Mifflin Intermediate School. Facing Archbishop Wood in the state semifinals, one rough stretch to start the fourth quarter sunk Susquehannock's hopes. The Warriors ultimately lost, 56-41, ending the season a game shy of playing for the state title on Saturday evening.
"We got a little bit out of sync," head coach Dave Schreiner said. "They took us out of our offense and we tried to just attack. ... (Archbishop Wood) played the best man-to-man pressure defense we've been against all year, and then they hit some shots."
15-0 run: Trailing by five heading into the fourth quarter, the Warriors (26-5) were one good run from potentially swinging the game in their favor. Instead, that run went against them. The Vikings (23-7) erupted for a 15-0 spurt that broke the game wide open.
Susquehannock didn't stop the run until Jaden Walker hit a 3-pointer with 2 minutes, 50 seconds to play, but by that time the result was decided. The Warriors continued to fight until the end, trading baskets with Wood the rest of the way, but it was a minor consolation. The District 12 champions finished with a 23-13 scoring advantage in the quarter.
Hot start: The brutal start to the fourth quarter was a complete 180-degree swing from how the game started for Susquehannock.
Not phased by the big moment or playing against a perennial state contender, the Warriors took the game to the Vikings in the opening period. The District 3 champions opened the contest by scoring the game's first seven points and held a 12-5 lead after eight minutes.
"It was one of those things where we were fresh, we had fresh legs and we hit some shots," Schreiner said.
Then, Wood changed its defensive tactics, starting by face-guarding sharp-shooter Jayla Galbreath. Once she was somewhat limited, Susquehannock's offense hit a snag. That allowed the Vikings to grab some momentum.
Wood slowly worked its way back into the game during the second quarter, before Katie May hit the first of her three 3-pointers just as time expired in the second quarter to tie the score at 22-22, bringing the game down to the final 16 minutes.
The Vikings finally grabbed their first lead of the night right out of the gates to open the third quarter, opening on a 7-0 run. That forced the Warriors to play catch-up the rest of the night, and they never fully overcame the deficit. The closest Susquehannock got after that initial 7-0 burst by Wood was within five.
Walker led the Warriors with 12 points, while Galbreath tallied 10 points. The Vikings were led by Cassie Sebold, who scored 12 points, and May, who had 11.
Promising future: Despite the loss, the future is bright for Susquehannock.
Tyler Williams was the only senior on the team, which was most accomplished in program history. The loss on Tuesday night capped a year in which the Warriors became the first team in program history to win a District 3 championship, as well as win a game in the state tournament.
Now the bar has been set at an all-time high for next year's squad.
"It was such a great way to go out," Williams said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. No regrets. No bad memories and I know they're going to do great things next year too."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org