General McLane had North East right where it wanted it entering the second half, trailing by just one and with the Grapepickers’ star player, Alex Artise, on the bench with three personal fouls.
But what the Lady Lancers’ weren’t expecting was North East’s reaction.
Instead of crumbling, the ’Pickers, who lost both regular season meetings against their Region 4 rival, thrived, and wound up outscoring the Lancers 16-10 in the period. That effort proved to be the difference in North East’s 38-36 win on Saturday at Edinboro University’s McComb Fieldhouse that earned it the District 10 Class AAA championship.
“We were in a position where Artise didn’t start the second half and we should have taken advantage of it,” General McLane head coach Sarah Jay said. “And we didn’t. It lit a fire under them and somehow motivated them to play their tails off, because they played great when she was on the bench.”
North East took the lead in the second quarter on a basket by Tori Prather with 4:20 to play in the period. The basket was part of an 8-0 run by the ’Pickers that allowed them to take a 15-10 advantage with 2:36 remaining.
The Lancers fought their way back and ended up down just one (19-18) at the break. With 3:54 left in the third quarter that deficit had grown to eight points after back-to-back 3-pointers by Prather and reserve Anne Lewis. It was a 10-point lead not even two minutes later.
“Somebody came off the bench who I can’t even tell you her name,” Jay said. “I’ve never seen her play before. She had never stepped on the floor the previous two games we played them.”
That player is junior Danielle Barnes, who had two points and two big rebounds in the crucial third period.
“You don’t get Artise in foul trouble,” Jay added. “And we did. But we couldn’t take advantage of it.”
Still, the Lancers didn’t go down without a fight. And it was junior Katie Rodrigues who made things interesting down the stretch for GM.
North East led 35-25 with five second to play in the third quarter. Rodrigues cut that lead back to single digits with a 3-pointer at the buzzer — a basket that started an 8-0 run by the Lancers and pulled them to within two (35-33) with 3:51 to play in the game. Rodrigues nailed another 3-pointer, this one from the college 3-point line, to give McLane the lead (36-35) with 46 seconds left.
It was McLane’s first lead since Michelle Jahn’s 3-pointer broke a 7-7 tie with 6:19 to go in the second quarter. North East retook the lead with 21 seconds left on a basket by Prather. She added a free throw with seven ticks to go to preserve the win.
“We just have a lot of heart and won’t give up no matter what,” General McLane senior guard Katie Clark said. “I think that is something that goes with all GM sports. GM just doesn’t give up.
“I’m very proud of how we played. Some things you wish would have gone better, but overall I’m proud of all the girls. We have a lot of close relationships so we work really well together. We didn’t get this one, but hopefully we’ll get the next one.”
That next one comes on Saturday against the WPIAL fourth seed Jeannette at a site and time yet to be determined. North East will face WPIAL seventh seed McGuffey.
“We’re thrilled to be in the state playoffs,” General McLane senior guard Katie Clark said. “This is the first time for (fellow senior) Lindsey (Jahn) and I. We’re thrilled for that. We just really wanted our senior year to bring home the District 10 title. But if it wasn’t us, we wish it to be North East.
“We know all the girls. We wished we would have had it, but we’re so happy for them at the same time.”
Rodrigues led the Lancers with 11 points. Michelle Jahn added eight points and Clark six.
Prather also had 11 points for the ’Pickers. Lewis finished with seven.
The Lancers fell to 22-3 with the loss. North East is also now 22-3.