The game between No. 1-seed Hershey and No. 2-seed St. Pat’s was like a match up of heavyweight fighters in the SPVA finals at McDonald-Belton Gymnasium on Saturday. The two state-ranked teams went toe-to-toe for four quarters but it was Hershey that had the final knockout punch, as the Lady Panthers downed St. Pat’s 44-30 for the title.
“You can’t ask for anything more,” said Hershey coach Jeremy Thomas. “You had the two best teams in the conference and we’re probably going to see each other maybe three more times if we would see them at state. You couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere — a packed house.”
Going into the conference tournament, St. Pat’s held down the No. 2 state ranking while the Lady Panthers came in ranked No. 7.
St. Pat’s (14-2) scored the final two baskets of the third quarter to close the Hershey lead to 26-24 heading into the final and decisive quarter. Brittany Lawrence cut down the lane and received an assist from Sam Byrn and then Bryn closed the third-quarter scoring, hitting a layup off the Hershey press.
But the third quarter would belong to the Lady Panthers as they used their stingy defense to outscore St. Pat’s 18-6 on their way to the championship.
Maddie Seaman opened the quarter with a bucket in the paint and then Maegan Hiatt stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for two.
Tayler Baker ended the run with a 3 from the right corner, and with 6 minutes, 36 seconds to go the Lady Panthers were up 33-24.
With 5:12 left on the clock, Hershey led 35-29. That’s when Thomas made the decision to slow the game down.
“When we got in the fourth quarter and still five minutes left, I thought we’ve got some of the best athletes in the state so lets run some clock off,” Thomas said. “It’s risky, only up six points. A [Hershey] turnover, they hit a 3 and they had another look. But I was happy with the way we executed that at the end.”
Hershey (12-3) would go on to finish the game with an 11-1 run. Seven of those points came from the line where the Lady Panthers were 7-of-8 down the stretch.
“You have to credit Hershey’s defense,” said St. Pat’s coach Nathan Stienike. “Holding us to 30 points, it’s all on their defense. They came out ready to play and we just couldn’t seem to score buckets.”
Hiatt led the Lady Panther with a game-high 15 points on the night and teammate Daynlee Miller added 13.
“She’s one of the best shooters in the area,” Thomas said of Hiatt. “She can just flat out shoot.
“I told her, you find your spot. A lot of times we go there and Brittany is there or somebody is there. I told her to step back, find your area and look for your shot.
“Daynlee had some really good looks in the first quarter and part of the second. They just weren’t falling. She got a little momentum and her shots were there. They were huge. Our shooters were huge.
“Tayler had a big 3 there and Maddie [Seamann] inside. We got some big rebounds and some good steals at the right time.”
The Hershey defense was smothering for the Lady Irish offense, as Lady Panthers limited St. Pat’s to only one shot much of the time.
“Our goal was to not give them second shots,” said Thomas. “We had to box out.
“You’ve got Brittany and Shelby [Allberry], two tall girls inside — you have to take that away from them. I was proud of our effort closing out and not giving them a good shot the first time. That’s what was huge for us.”
St. Pat’s jumped out to an 8-2 lead in quarter one, the final baskets coming off fast breaks.
Lawrence scored on an assist from Brook Boucher and then Boucher hit on an Allberry assist. But the Lady Panthers outscored St. Pat’s 13-4 in the second for the 15-12 lead at half.
“I thought we started really good,” Stienike said. “We were clicking pretty good offensively.
“But Hershey being Hershey, they made their run and got the lead going into half and then had some nice momentum to start the second half that was kind of the difference in the game.”
“I was a little nervous when it was 8-2 at the end of the first quarter, but we made a huge run in the second,” Thomas said. “I was just so happy with our defense. Our defense was just superb tonight.”
Hershey (12-3)..............................2 13 11 18 — 44
St. Pat’s (14-2).................................8 4 12 6 — 30
Hershey stats: (2 pt, 3 pt, ft, pts) Daynlee Miller 3, 1, 4/5, 13; Brooke Frederick 0, 0, 3/5, 3; Maegan Hiatt 5, 1, 2/4, 15; Tayler Baker 1, 1, 0/0, 5; Maddie Seamann 1, 0, 4/4, 6; Taylor Mustion 1, 0, 0/0, 2.
St. Pat’s stats: Anna O’Malley 0, 2, 1/2, 7; Sam Byrn 2, 0, 2/4, 6; Brook Boucher 1, 0, 0/0, 2; Shelby Allberry 2, 1, 0/0, 7; Brittany Lawrence 4, 0, 0/4, 8.