By Lynn Saternow
Herald Sports Editor
GREENSBURG, Pa. — Nobody said it would be easy. Not when you get to the second round of the PIAA playoffs. But nobody said it would brutal!
“That was a very, very physical game,” said a relieved Kennedy Catholic coach Chris Mele after his team defeated a hard-nosed group of Lady Bulldogs from Claysburg-Kimmel, 45-38, Thursday night at Hempfield High School.
“Our press is what got us here and it made the difference tonight against a very good team.”
That press and then man-to-man — make that woman-to-woman — defense was truly the difference and it showed early in the game.
The contest got off to an scary start for the Lady Golden Eagles. After getting the opening tip, a quick steal and layup by C-K’s Madison Ickes put the District 10 champs behind 18 seconds into the game.
But thanks to a pressing defense that Mele emphaized, Kennedy controlled the rest of the first quarter as they vaulted on top 13-7 after 8 minutes. During that period, the defense forced eight turnovers and held Kimmel to only 2 of 16 shooting. Meanwhile Rebekah Kish hit a pair of treys and matched the opponent’s 7 points for the frame.
In the second period, the Lady Bulldogs bounced back, aided by some weak foul shooting by Kennedy, which made only 3 of 10 from the charity stripe, including some 1-on-1s before going into the double bonus with 1:23 remaining before half.
In fact, Kimmel came back to tie the contest at 16-all with 1:58 prior to half on a pair of free throws by leading scorer Abby Kulick. But aided by a pair of hoops by freshman sub Makayla Shannonhouse, the Lady Golden Eagles went back on top, although a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Paige Burk hacked the KC margin at 22-19.
Kennedy came out of the lockerroom in the second half on fire. Kish nailed a trey, followed by two baskets by senior Taylor Hood and Tatum Kress to put KC up 31-19.
But the Lady Bulldogs regained their bite. After a 3-ball by Burk, baskets by Kari Glass and Kulick cut the margin to 31-26. But Kennedy stopped the bleeding, going inside to 6-foot-3 April Bocian for an easy layup with 1:53 left in the frame.
That was the final score of the period at the fourth quarter turn, KC led 33-26.
It had a been a very physical quarter, but unlike the first half with saw 25 fouls shot, there were none in the entire period, which resembled the famous “no-blood, no-foul” theme.
In the final frame, the Lady Bulldogs were able to cut the margin to 7 a few times, but each time Kennedy held tough resulting in the final outcome and a trip to the quarterfinals on Saturday.
Kennedy will play the winner of Vincentian Academy or Berlin-Brothersvalley at a site and time to be determined.
“Our foul shooting (6-for-18) was really off tonight,” lamented Mele. “And we’re usually a good foul-shooting team. That was uncharacteristic tonight and something we’ll need to work on.
“Alivia O’Brien was an unsung hero tonight. It may not show in the stat sheets, but she was hustling all over the place. She was the smallest girl on the floor, but she was taking rebounds away from some of those girls.
“But that’s the way this team is. I tell them, ‘This is the playoffs, everybody has to step up.’ And they did. Tatum Kress did a nice job all-around and Taylor Hood as you can see is our real leader out there. She got into foul trouble early so the rest of the team came through. Freshman Makayla Shannonhouse came in and really made a difference.
“April Bocian on defense changes the way the other team has to play offense. She didn’t have one of her better offensive games, but I told her, ‘Don’t worry about offense, we need you on defense.’”
Kish led the scoring for KC with 12 points, while Hood was in with 9 and Kress and Bocian each had 7. Lady Bulldogs senior Kulick, a 1,000-point career scorer, led her team with 13 markers, while sharpshooting Burk hit 4 treys for 12 points. “That No. 4 (Burk) has some range, she can score from any distance. You don’t realize it until you see her shoot,” said Mele.
PIAA CLASS A PLAYOFFS
KENNEDY 13 9 11 12 45
CLAYSBURG 7 12 7 12 38
KENNEDY CATHOLIC — Kress 3-1-2-7; Hood 4-1-2-9; Kish 4-1-2-12; O’Brien 0-2-5-2; Bocian 3-1-5-7; Fusco 0-0-2-0; Zacherl 2-0-0-4; Shannonhouse 2-0-0-4. 3-pt. goals: Kish 3. Totals: 18-6-18-45.
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL — Kulick 3-7-10-13; Ickes2-1-2-5; Locke 1-0-0-2; Glass 1-0-0-2; Weiland 2-0-0-4; Burk 4-0-0-12. 3-pt.goals: Burk 4. Totals: 3-8-12-38.