DILLSBURG - When the final buzzer sounded, St. John Neumann head coach Steve Sholder dropped to one knee and clutched the sides of his head with both hands.
It was an emotional moment for the coach, and justifiably so. He had just seen his Golden Knights pull off an inspired second-half comeback over Steelton-Highspire, winning their first ever PIAA Class A state playoff game, 51-49, at Northern York High School.
"I've told the girls all year that everybody is bigger than us and stronger than us, but nobody has a bigger heart," Sholder said. "They just keep battling and battling, and it is fantastic."
Nobody battled harder on the floor than Neumann's senior captains, Megan Trenholm and Emily Sholder. Together, the duo accounted for more than 60 percent of the Knight's scoring totals, and helped their team claw back from disparity every time the momentum swung toward the Steamrollers. Sholder ended the game as her team's leading scorer, with 17 points, while Trenholm added 15.
Emily Sholder also had 8 steals and 5 assists, while Trenholm had 12 rebounds and 6 steals.
After getting off to a hot start that saw a 9-2 lead in the blink of an eye, Neumann cruised through most of the first quarter by playing a high-energy defense that appeared to be wearing down the much larger Steelton-Highspire team.
However, as the second quarter began, the roles reversed as the Steamrollers looked to their well-rested bench players to help work their way back into the game. With fresh legs, they regained control of the lead by scoring 16 second-quarter points, which helped them end the half with a slight 26-22 lead.
"Sometimes it can be tough, because we basically play with six girls," Sholder said. " But I thought our offense was really good in terms of patience and waiting for good shots."
Knowing that his team couldn't compete with the size of the Steamrollers inside, Sholder switched Neumann's defense from the press to a more packed-in scheme, essentially giving up perimeter shots to the Steamrollers. It was a savvy move, and one that paid dividends for the Knights as they tied the game back up at 41-41 by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
"This team was just too big for the press," Sholder said. So we switched it up and the girls did a much better job."
"Sometimes when you give things away you hope they won't take advantage of it, and luckily for us they didn't."
After the switch, Sholder was pleased to see that his girls were doing a better job of boxing-out and preventing second-chance shooting opportunities. He also enjoyed seeing his team play a great transitional game, which was the true essence of their game.
Overall, the Knights saw just four players make scoring contributions, but with three of those players hitting double figures, they did just enough keep their season rolling for the foreseeable future.
Sholder said that just making it to the state tournament was a huge achievement for his squad, but now that they are here he wants them to enjoy the moment.
"I told them that we made it here, now let's have some fun and go as far as we can," he said. "It is all about surviving and advancing."
Neumann reached the second round Wednesday vs. Jenkintown, the District 1 runner-up that beat Parkway West, the District 12 champion Saturday.
St. John Neumann (51)
Emily Sholder 7 2-6 17, Meghan Trenholm 4 6-15 15, Megan Helminiak 5 3-4 13, Baylie Gerrity 3 0-2 6, Stephanie Fernandez 0 0-0 0, Rachel Daneker 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 11-27 51.
Genisis Lozada 0 0-0 0, Leana Borelli 2 0-0 5, Ayana Flowers 3 0-2 6, Iilayna McLaughlin 4 0-4 8, Malani Tate-DeFreitas 0 0-0 0, Janique Simmons 2 1-3 5, Jasmine Gohram 1 0-0 3, Marlin Sanchez 3 0-0 6, Ceani Cegen 2 1-2 5, Joslyn Still 5 1-2 11. Totals: 22 3-13 49.
St. John Neumann14 8 19 10 - 51
Steel-High8 18 15 8 - 49
3-point goals: Neumann 2 (Sholder, Trenholm); Steelton 2 (Borelli, Goham).
Records: St. John Neumann 18-8.