HERSHEY — It took a little longer than normal, but the Delone Catholic girls' basketball team finally found its collective groove Thursday evening.
Taking on parochial rival Trinity in the District 3 Class 3-A final at the Giant Center in Hershey, the Squirettes were unable to create separation for much of the first two quarters.
A late run to end the first half, fueled mostly by its defense that forced 24 turnovers in the game, finally gave Delone the cushion it needed.
Despite a tough shooting night for both Delone standouts, Brooke Lawyer (eight points) and Giana Hoddinott (12 points), the Squirettes (24-1) cruised to the program's fifth District 3 title and its first since 2004 with a 44-22 triumph.
"It's been like forever," Lawyer said of the district drought. "Before I graduate, I wanted to (win a district title) at least."
It wasn't easy early on: Delone entered the night ranked No. 1 in the state 3-A rankings, a position the team has carried all season long. It certainly wasn't easy in the early going, though, against a Shamrocks team that Delone dominated during the regular season, 58-39.
The biggest advantage over the first 12 minutes of play was four points for Delone. While the Squirettes were forcing turnovers — the Shamrocks (19-6) turned it over 15 times in the first half — the Delone girls were unable to take advantage, with neither Lawyer nor Hoddinott able to find their shooting touches.
Trinity’s advantage inside, with 6-foot-plus forward Lauren Trumpy, also posed problems. Trumpy scored half of Trinity’s first 12 points while keeping the game close. Delone led just 14-12 with 3:23 left in the half.
“Our game plan was to pressure them, so that if they were going to try to lob the ball inside, that it would be from pretty far out,” Delone coach Gerry Eckenrode said. “That was the plan, and I used that way back in the day at the old barn (Hersheypark Arena) against Wyomissing when they were huge and we weren’t.”
Getting contributions from many players: Fortunately for Eckenrode, the Squirettes are more than just Lawyer and Hoddinott.
A 10-2 run to finish the first half was fueled by points from four different players — Makenna Mummert (4), Abby Jacoby (2), Abigail Vingsen (2) and Hoddinott (2).
"We have some good players," Eckenrode said. "Fortunately (Brooke and Giana) don't have to worry about being the big person (every night)."
Jacoby came up especially big early. The sophomore drained back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Squirettes a 6-2 lead early. Jacoby then sparked the 10-2 run to end the half with a pair of free throws.
Lawyer, who had a tough shooting night in last year's loss to Trinity in the district final, wasn't able to connect on any of her six 3-point attempts Thursday. Unlike last year, however, the Squirettes didn't miss a beat.
"It's a total team effort," Lawyer said. "I mean everybody is putting points up on the board, and when the team's winning, I'm happy for my team."
Staying east for state journey: Now the Delone girls will embark on a journey to try to defend the state crown — one that no one saw them winning a year ago.
Unlike that run, which was capped off by defeating the No. 1 team in the state in unbeaten Dunmore in the final, this time the Delone girls will enter the draw as the team to beat.
"We're headed on the east side of it now," Eckenrode said, in comparison to last year's run through the west side of the draw. "And it's going to be a tougher challenge, no doubt about it. There are some really good teams out there, but we're good too."
Delone will open state action on Friday, March 12, vs. the sixth-place team from District 12 (Philadelphia).
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.