UNION DEPOSIT — When injured standout Kate Bauhof made a decision to shut down any attempt at a comeback in January, Bauhof's York Catholic teammates were left with a reality check.
The hopes of Bauhof coming back to save a struggling season — the Irish were 3-6 back on Jan. 5 — no longer was an option.
At that point, a stark wake-up call hit the other Irish players — if they wanted to make something of their season, they would have to do it themselves.
More than two months later, the York Catholic girls proved to themselves and their coach that accomplishing that feat wasn't a "mission impossible."
Playing in a PIAA Class 3-A second-round contest Tuesday, March 13, at Central Dauphin East High School against District 6 champion Penns Valley, the Irish didn't look like the team that stood 3-6 back in early January. York Catholic raced out to an early lead against the Lady Rams before pulling away for an impressive 52-37 triumph.
York Catholic (15-13) moves on to the state quarterfinals, where it will take on District 7 runner-up East Allegheny (26-1), a 60-34 winner over District 9 champ Brookville on Tuesday.
Katy Rader, who led the Irish with 13 points, felt that the turning point for her team came when the District 3 playoffs began.
Victories against Middletown and rival Delone Catholic vaulted the perennial district contenders into the program's 12th consecutive district final.
While Rader and her teammates came up short against parochial rival Trinity in the final, the confidence of the squad has grown larger and larger with every passing contest.
"I think it was in districts," Rader said, referring to when team stepped up its collective game to another level. "We made a good run in districts, and I think we learned that it was now or never."
The Irish played like that all night against a Penns Valley squad that entered the contest averaging well over 50 points per game. The YC defensive pressure, combined with an interior size advantage, were problems that the Lady Rams were unable to completely solve.
PV did put together a run right before the half to draw within three points (21-18), but the Irish started the second half with four quick points to restore a lead that hovered around 5-7 points for most of the rest of the third period. As the contest moved into the final stanza, the Irish were able to stretch the lead to double figures, where it remained until the final buzzer.
"We played with a zone trap, and then played a zone in the second half," York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos said. "It was more of a match-up-type zone, just to take their penetration away."
That penetration was what helped the Lady Rams cut a seven-point hole late in the second quarter to three by the break. But the size advantage that the Irish held inside proved to be a big trouble spot for PV. Rader, Jania Wright (eight points) and Abby Pilkey (10 points) — all around 6-foot — combined for a collective nine blocks for the contest.
"We didn't expect that many blocks, but we knew we were going to have a size advantage," Rader said. "At halftime coach (Bankos) told us that we need to pick up our defense and we came out and did it."
While guard Gina Citrone was not part of the block parade, the Irish standout proved to be a pest in PV's side all night. Citrone finished with 11 points, all of which came in the second half.
Now an Irish squad that appeared in danger of not qualifying for the district playoffs in late January is one win away from getting back to the state semifinals for a second year in a row.
Bankos said that speaks volumes about the squad.
"I think that it was probably a big deal for the girls to say to themselves that 'Kate isn't going to be back,'" he said. "So they had to figure out how to do this. And they've figured it out."
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.