Lourdes reaches final, Sullivan County enhances legacy
LAPORTE–Sullivan County parents cheered their team’s players as they exited the locker room Saturday night.
Sullivan County did not win the District 4 Class A semifinal against Lourdes, but it sure has won a lot the last six years. And it enhanced the program’s tradition in a season many thought would never happen. Despite losing all-state forward Jessica King to graduation, Sullivan County captured a fifth straight Mid-Penn championship, went 11-5 and never stopped competing hard.
Lourdes earned the win Saturday but the Griffins again won the admiration of their community.
Freshman Masie Reed scored 12 of her 13 points in the first half and ignited a pivotal second-quarter run, giving Lourdes a lead it never relinquished as it defeated Sullivan, 43-27. The Red Raiders avenged a loss from a week ago, as well as last-season’s quarterfinal defeat, while reaching a fourth district final in five years.
The Red Raiders (14-7) will face defending champion Northumberland Christian Friday at Williamsport. Sullivan will look back its season with pride.
“I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished this year. I think this was another year a lot of people wrote us off when you lose an all-stater like Jess. To come out and play the way we did was impressive,” Sullivan coach Kurt Parrish said. “We have seniors that have never went without a league championship or being co-champions. That’s a statement in itself. To have girls that work as hard as they do is great. I’m blessed with an athletic group of girls who put in so much time.”
All that work helped Sullivan continue achieving big things despite starting the season nearly two weeks later than every other team. The Griffins rallied from a 3-3 start, won six straight entering Saturday and went on the road to hand both Class AAA Towanda and South Williamsport their only regular-season losses.
That all-out effort was there again for four quarters against Lourdes. But the swarming Raiders’ defense along with excellent offensive execution formed a potent combination as a splendid season ended.
“Look at what they’ve accomplished this year. A lot of people out there thought this was the year they’d have the upper hand on Sullivan and we beat some good teams,” Parrish said. “Those girls can play any sport and be a factor.”
Sullivan and Lourdes are perennial title contenders and were meeting in districts for a fifth straight year. Ironically, it was a player who was not in high school during last year’s game in Laporte who may have made the biggest difference Saturday.
Sullivan led 10-6 after a quarter and went up by six a minute into the second. Reed, however, soon took over and scored seven quick points. Her steal and layup put Lourdes ahead to stay and she added a 3-pointer moments later. Reed scored 12 of Lourdes’ first 20 points, was outstanding in transition and made five steals.
The big playoff stage was no match for Reed who kept elevating her performance at the most opportune time.
“I was super nervous through the first half of the season. I’m kind of in the flow now so I’m used to it,” Reed said. “Everyone has a specific role and when we all come together it’s like a perfect circle.”
All parts of that circle started working in harmony after Sullivan built that 12-6 lead. Reed fanned the flames and her teammates helped grow it into an inferno. Lourdes closed the half on a 19-4 run and a Meryl Czeponis to Leah Kosmer 3-point play in the final seconds gave it an 8-point halftime lead.
After making just 2 of 12 first-quarter shots, Lourdes made 7 of its final 11 in the second and its defense went into lockdown mode, allowing just 15 points over the game’s final 31 minutes. The Raiders also forced 12 first-half turnovers which fueled the transition game.
“Everyone was playing well,” Reed said. “It was like a switch. As soon as I hit that 3 we just came back on defense and it was steal after steal. It all came together.”
Lourdes did an outstanding job slowing the potent Sullivan running game. The Raiders took advantage of their fastbreak opportunities, but also hustled back on defense to limit Sullivan. Lourdes made it a half-court game, players moved the ball well and it started pulling away in the fourth quarter, scoring seven straight points after the Griffins had made it 33-26.
“My father was a long-time football coach for many years and he said make them play the way you want them to play,” Lourdes coach Mike Klembara said. “I sold that to the girls and we had good preparation and now we go to the district final which is another step.”
Lourdes has taken a big step this season. A perennial power, Lourdes competed in both the 2016 and 2019 Class A state finals. The Raiders, though, were young last year and experienced a growing season. Despite a limited offseason, Lourdes continued growing this year, hit its stride late in the season and played one of its most complete games against Sullivan.
“We are pleased with that. They work pretty hard,” Klembara said. “We just want to make sure they stay focused on everything and that they don’t get down on themselves. We tell them, ‘Don’t get down when you miss one because you’re going to make the next one.'”
Lourdes proved that in the second quarter. The Raiders executed well in the first quarter but missed a lot of inside shots, including some layups. They stuck with the game plan, started making those shots and did a nice job in the fourth quarter working the clock and forcing Sullivan to foul.
Peyton Kehler was tough inside and grabbed 14 rebounds while Emma Shimko added 12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks. Kosmer (7 points) was strong off the bench and Katie Sandri and Meryl Czeponis helped spark the defense.
The Griffins cut a 10-point deficit to seven early in the fourth quarter. They had five inside scoring opportunities from there but missed each time. Leading scorers Sophia Springman and Bethany Beinlich later fouled out and Lourdes pulled away.
Beinlich was a factor on both ends and grabbed 12 rebounds while making 5 steals. Samantha Albright pulled down 13 rebounds and Springman capped an all-state caliber season with 9 points and 7 rebounds. All three will graduate and leave quite a legacy, being a part of three state qualifiers, four league champions and 70 wins.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a game where they stop battling,” Parrish said. “The girls, especially this senior group, they’ve never not given 100 percent. When they’re on the floor they’re playing their hearts out.”
Emma Shimko 2 8-11 12, Meryl Czeponis 2 2-2 6, Masie Reed 5 1-6 13, Katie Sandri 0 0-0 0, Leah Kosmer 3 1-1 7, Peyton Kehler 2 1-2 5. Totals 14 13-22 43.
Sophia Springman 3 2-2 9, Bethany Beinlich 2 1-2 5, Olivia Harney 1 0-0 2, Samantha Albright 2 1-4 5, Ellie Springman 1 2-4 5, Chloe Immel 0 1-2 1, Anna Springman 0 0-0 0, Kaylee Wettlaufer 0 0-0 0, Andy Zelewicz 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 7-14 27.
Lourdes 6 19 6 12–43
Sullivan 10 7 6 4–27
3-pointers: Lourdes 1 (Reed); Sullivan 2 (S. Springman, E. Springman).
Records: Lourdes 14-7. Sullivan 11-5.