For a second straight year, Dallas threatened to derail Honesdale's quest for a state playoff berth.
On Saturday afternoon at Pittston Area, the Mountaineers overcame a big early deficit to pull within three points of the Lady Hornets late in regulation.
Thanks to Natasha Hessling, though, that's as close as they'd ever get.
Honesdale's sophomore center picked the perfect moment to have the biggest game of her young career. Hessling exploded for 30 points and 11 rebounds in leading her team to a wild 73-64 victory.
"It's kind of funny because during practice this morning I really wasn't feeling it," Natasha said with a big smile. "But, as the game went on I started to get hot. It felt really good and I knew we were going to win."
Tracy Ludwig was quick to agree with emerging star.
"You know, these girls might make my hair turn grey sometimes, but I never doubt that they'll pull it out in the end," Honesdale's veteran coach said.
"Tasha especially came up huge for us. She played an amazing game."
Thanks in large part to Hessling's monster outing, the Lady Hornets now move on to the Districts Two semifinals. Weather permitting, Honesdale will return to Yatesville Wednesday night for a battle with Holy Redeemer.
The Royals eliminated Abington Heights 39-30 in the nightcap of this D-2 doubleheader. Coach Chris Parker's club is the bracket's second seed and will bring a 19-6 record into Wednesday's encounter.
"I don't really care who we play," Hessling said, a gleam in her eye. "We're the best team and I think we'll beat whoever comes next."
Once again, Natasha's mentor was in complete agreement.
"We obviously know Abington better than Redeemer, but I have a pretty good feel for both teams," Coach Ludwig said.
Page 2 of 3 - "The important thing is that we keep playing our game and let the chips fall where they may."
Opening tip for this Class AAA semifinal is slated for 6 p.m.
On the Attack
Hessling powered her way to three early baskets, but it was Katie Miller who had Dallas reeling in the first quarter.
Another member of Honesdale's wildly talented sophomore class, Miller rattled the rims in just about every way imaginable. Katie buried a trey from the right wing, finished a pair of fastbreaks and swished two short jumpers.
Dallas burned a timeout to try and slow Miller's momentum, but to no avail. At the end of one period, the Lady Hornets had raced out to a 26-16 lead.
"Katie is really blossoming into a superstar player," Coach Ludwig said. "She's still only a sophomore, but Katie can take over a game just about anytime she wants to."
Miller got herself into a bit of foul trouble and was forced to sit out most of the second quarter. However, Jess Carney came off the bench to take on some of the ballhandling chores.
This allowed Hessling to ratchet up her game in the paint. Natasha muscled her way to multiple low post buckets. However, she also stepped back to drain one 10-12 foot jay after another.
Dallas simply had no answer for Hessling's dazzling array of moves.
"Traditionally, Tasha isn't really our biggest scorer," Coach Ludwig said. "But, it doesn't surprise me that she had such a big game today. Tasha does everything well. She plays good defense and really gets after it on the boards."
Honesdale extended its lead to 11 points at intermission, but Dallas refused to go quietly and rallied in the second half.
Page 3 of 3 - A Stern Test
Led by the dynamic duo of Talia Szatkowski and Ashley Dunbar, the Mounties made their move late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
Dallas whittled away at Honesdale's lead, which early in the half had ballooned to 16 points. However, with Szatkowski and Dunbar heating up, that margin shrunk to just three on two occasions.
The Mounties' two top scorers combined for 35, but once again Miller and Hessling took control of the game as time wound down in regulation.
Katie swished one clutch jumper after another and also came through at the foul line. Miller would finish her afternoon with 25 points.
Hessling balanced her teammate's perimeter barrage with power in the paint and dominance on the glass, hauling down a game-high 11 rebounds.
Seniors Mary Martin and Kacie Johannes also contributed key plays down the stretch.
Martin showed no ill-effects of her broken left hand, battling her way to nine points and seven boards. Johannes knocked down two crucial treys, the second of which pushed Honesdale's lead back up to nine and forced Dallas to call its final timeout.
Hessling and Miller each nailed two free throws in the final minute to seal the deal on a wild win.
Carney (two pts) and Kate Pfeil (one) rounded out the Lady Hornet scoring.
Score by Quarters...
HON (21-3) 26 15 14 18 - 73
DAL (20-4) 16 14 21 13 - 64