LEWISTOWN — The Delone Catholic girls’ basketball players knew they were good.
But good enough to make it to a state final?
Yet, somehow, someway, the Squirettes are headed to a place they didn't expect to be — the PIAA Class 3-A state championship game.
Led by strong efforts from senior Bradi Zumbrum and junior Brooke Lawyer, the Delone girls fought off a spirited effort by Central Cambria Monday evening. Lawyer led all scorers with 16 points, while Zumbrum collected a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds to power the Squirettes to a 47-39 triumph over the Red Devils in the state semifinals at Mifflin County High School.
Delone (25-4) will now go after the program’s first state title since the 2004-05 season when it faces undefeated Dunmore at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Giant Center in Hershey. The Bucks (29-0) routed District 3 champ Trinity, 50-24, in the other semifinal Monday. The 2005 title was the third of three straight state championships for Delone.
“It is a bit of a surprise,” senior Riley Vingsen said of Delone's 2019 state run. “Just because I didn’t think that we would get this far.”
Zumbrum, one of the team’s vocal leaders throughout her career at Delone, took it a step further.
“I would have never thought that we would be here,” she said after Monday’s victory. “And even coach (Gerry Eckenrode) said he wouldn't have thought that.”
Trinity loss proved to be right medicine: Yet here are the Squirettes, a team that suffered a pair of demoralizing 11-point setbacks at the hands of Trinity during the regular season and in the District 3 final. That last loss to the Shamrocks, however, seemed weirdly to be just the right medicine for the team at that point.
“In the end, I think that (loss to Trinity) really helped us,” said Vingsen, who finished with four points Monday. “Losing there made us kind of regroup and I think we’ve played better basketball than we did all season.”
The Trinity loss also sent Delone to the western half of the state bracket, which turned out to be a favorable draw. All of the 3-A state favorites had to slug it out in the eastern half of the draw.
Strong down the stretch: The Delone girls may not have played perfectly against a Central Cambria team that finished third in the District 6 tournament, but the Squirettes played almost flawlessly when it counted.
With the score knotted at 33-all with just more than five minutes remaining, the Squirettes took the lead for good when Vingsen found Gianna Hoddinott (seven points) for a layup. A moment later it was Vingsen finding Lawyer, who knocked down a jumper to stretch the lead to four.
The Squirettes were able to salt away the victory by knocking down 6 of 8 free throws, including a perfect 4-for-4 performance by freshman Camryn Felix (nine points).
“The kids just persevered,” Eckenrode said. “Words just can’t describe it.”
Eckenrode shows glee: With just more than a minute left, the Delone girls stretched the lead to double digits. And, for the first time in a long time, the normally gruff Delone coach pumped his fist in a moment of glee.
“That’s about as much emotion as you’ll get out of me,” the longtime Delone boss said.
The Delone girls are hoping to see more of that from their coach. Lawyer and Zumbrum even confirmed that their coach was able to manage a brief smile during a postgame celebration.
“I’ve been there three times,” Eckenrode said of the state finals. “And when you’re at the pinnacle, it’s great. Going back down isn’t much fun, but going back up is a lot of fun. This is very enjoyable.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.