Shots fell to the delight of the crowd Friday night in “The Mecca” of eastern
high school basketball, Martz Hall in Pottsville. Unfortunately, for the Susquehanna faithful that boarded cars and buses it wasn’t them cheering.
A second-quarter three-point barrage by Nativity BVM and a brutal scoreless third quarter for Susquehanna meant there would be no repeat of the District II/XI Class A Girls’ Basketball Championship for the Lady Sabers as they fell 45-29.
The opportunity of playing in the prestigious confines of the historic basketball arena did not phase Susquehanna as the Lady Sabers were relaxed and singing on the long bus ride down Route 81 and when Senior Mackenzie buried a three from 20 feet and classmate Mackenzie Steele converted a drop step to the middle to give Susquehanna an early 5-1 lead it looked like the evening would go like so many had over the past three seasons for this class of graduating Seniors who have been part of so many historic moments for the school’s girls’ basketball program.
A Taylor Huyck drive with just under 20 seconds put Susquehanna up 11-8 but then just before the buzzer Nativity’s Tori Hunyara buried a jumper just inside the arc before the first quarter buzzer to cut the lead to 11-10.
It would be harbinger of what was to come.
Nativity’s Madison Kramer put Nativity up 12-11 with a pair of free throws. Huyck answered with her own pair from the charity strip to put Susquehanna back up 13-12. It would be their last lead.
Three possessions later Hunyara buried a three from the right wing to put the Golden Girls up 15-12. It would be the first in a series as Samantha Heenan would bookend a three from Kaitlyn Zemantauski as the Nativity raced to a 24-15 lead, the barrage interrupted only by a Steele jumper from the elbow.
The torrid shooting went against Fallon’s scouting report and what he had observed on film.
“From what I had seen, reports we had, they were not a great three-point shooting team, other than number 23 (Hunyara)” said Fallon. “But some nights things change.”
Hunyara would find Heenan in transition for a layup and Nativity took a 26-15 lead into intermission.
The Lady Sabers defense came out in the third quarter determined to quelch Nativity’s hot shooting. The Susquehanna offense did not come out with them.
Nativity turned the pressure up even more and Susquehanna found countless possessions haunted by turnovers and ineffective errant passes.
“They definitely pressured us a lot, and that’s not something we’re used to,” said Huyck.
The failure to respond was disappointing for Fallon who felt the team’s experience should have bred confidence for a comeback.
“They just wore us down, broke out spirit,” said Fallon.
“We’re down 11 at the half, but we have 16 minutes of basketball,” added Fallon. “But we’ve been in that situation before, in state playoff games and have come back and won them.”
Looking for answers Fallon attempted to use a variety of offensive sets including utilizing Steele at the point.
“We couldn’t get into anything, and I felt it was the pressure up top,” surmised Fallon. “We made adjustments, but they did a good job of adjusting to our adjustments, too.”
However, Susquehanna’s defense was up to the task. Except for a Heenan drop step layup in the first minute and a Hunyara drive in the last seconds, Susquehanna held Nativity to four points and stayed within striking distance 30-15 going into the fourth quarter.
“Defensively, we gave ourselves a chance,” said Fallon.
The Susquehanna offense showed life in the final stanza as Huyck hit a pair of free throws and Heath buried another trey to answer Hunyara’s final three-pointer on the evening to cut the lead to 33-20.
But Zemantauski nailed another three to deflate the Susquehanna faithful and Nativity converted seven of eight from the foul line to seal the win and the Subregional Championship.
Huyck led Susquehanna with 11 points and Steele finished with 10.
Despite the disappointment of the loss, the Lady Sabers and their coach realize they still have basketball to play and goals to fulfill.
“We just get back to practice and prepare for our next game,” said Huyck.
“At the end of the day, both teams make the state playoffs,” said Fallon. “You can’t look back and say our goals have changed. Our goals haven’t changed, we want to advance to where we went last year, and further.”