– What a difference a year makes.
"We have been here before."
Those were the words of Honesdale Lady Hornets Coach Tracy Ludgwig on Saturday night after her team made school history.
That history was a first-ever state playoff win for the girls basketball team – and it was a big one.
The Lady Hornets came out smoking and never let up en route to a 44-30 win against Danville Area in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament held at Marywood University in Dunmore.
A year ago, at the same location, the Lady Hornets entered the tournament with no previous experience. In that game, the Lady Hornets faced Southern Lehigh. On that night, Honesdale bolted to a big lead in the first quarter but ran out of gas at the end of the game and lost.
Fast forward a year to last Saturday night. For the large contingent of Honesdale fans on hand, they must have been flashing back to a year ago. The reason is the Lady Hornets came out again like gangbusters. The previous year, they bolted to a 9-0 lead. On Saturday, they raced to a 10-0 lead.
But there was a marked difference this year.
"We were very composed under pressure," said Ludwig. "We stayed calm and cool."
In the opening minutes of the game, the Hornets showed a lot of tenacity. They converted the opening tip when sophomore forward Natasha Hessling canned an outside jumper just 15 seconds into the game for a 2-0 margin. The Lady Hornets would never trail from that point forward.
After a missed shot by Danville Area, Hessling pulled down a strong rebound and the running game of the Lady Hornets kicked in. Sophomore guard Taylor Parenti was on the receiving end of a fast-break and was fouled in the lane. She calmly stepped to the charity stripe and sank both free throws for a 4-0 Honesdale lead. It was the only two points of the night for Parenti, but it set a tone.
With 6:13 to go in the opening stanza, Hessling capitalized on another Honesdale steal and sank her second bucket of the game for a 6-0 lead and a prompt timeout called by Danville Area Coach Dan Moser.
The timeout did not work, however, as the Lady Hornets continued the barrage.
Hessling scored at the 5:05 mark for an 8-0 lead and playmaking guard Katie Miller, who had an incredible nine steals in the game, chipped in her first field goal of the game with a fast-break bucket at the 3:42 mark for a 10-0 Honesdale lead.
But at this point, Danville turned things around and it started with a three-point shot by Donie Ann Keiley at 2:30 which closed the gap to 12-3.
Page 2 of 4 - A bucket by Honesdale senior Mary Martin, who is closing in on a 1,000 point career, pushed it back to 14-3. However, the Lady Ironmen from Danville went on a 7-0 run in the final 1:30 of the first period to close the margin to 14-10 at the buzzer.
It looked like the game was back on.
But not for long.
And you can credit the Honesdale defense for what transpired over the next six and one-half minutes.
"We like to change it up," said Ludwig of the defensive looks from the Lady Hornets. "We play two each quarter and the girls really like to do that. They like to think it really throws the other team off with the different looks."
Their thinking proved right on the shiny hardwood floor where the Pacers of Marywood University play.
Danville had possession to open the second half but could not convert.
On their possession, the Lady Hornets missed an outside jumper but Hessling muscled inside for one of her game-high 10 rebounds. She promptly took the ball straight back up, made the basket and was hacked in the process. Hessling converted the free throw and it was suddenly 17-10.
It would just get better from there.
After super senior Mary Martin canned an inside shot at 6:30, the game's leading scorer, Katie Miller, hit a free throw and the Lady Hornets were up 20-10.
The onslaught would continue sparked by Miller's three-pointer at 5:45 and then a fast-break bucket by Miller at 2:00 which put the Lady Hornets in solid command at 28-10.
Once again, the Lady Ironmen mounted a small comeback, outscoring Honesdale 5-2 the rest of the frame but when the halftime horn sounded, the Lady Hornets were in solid command with a 30-15 lead. The large contingent of Honesdale fans rose as one to salute their team which put on a very solid performance in the first half.
"Our fans are fantastic," said Ludwig.
The fans had a lot more to cheer about in the second half of the game as the Lady Hornets continued to apply the defense pressure while staying steady on offense.
The third period was nearly a stalemate with the Hornets outscoring Danville 9-8 and taking a 39-23 lead into the final frame. Miller scored five of her points in the third period, hitting a three-pointer at the 6:30 mark and then a two-pointer at 6:00 on a nice feed from sophomore guard Morgan Birmlein on a fast-break. That stretched the lead to 35-17.
Danville once again fought back at the end of the period, however, when the buzzer sounded the Lady Hornets were still solidly in command 39-23.
Page 3 of 4 - In the fourth period, the Lady Hornets slowed the pace somewhat and utilized the clock. Nearly halfway through the period, the Lady Hornets had only put four points on the board, however, their tenacious defense had allowed only three points and they led 43-28 with just 3:30 to play.
At that point, Danville pretty much had conceded the game and inserted its bench players to finish out most of the game.
The rest of the quarter was keep-away on the part of the Lady Hornets, who cruised to the 44-30 win and a trip to the round of 16 on Wednesday night. The Lady Hornets, now 24-3, will take on Bethlehem Catholic, 25-2, at Hazleton High School on Wednesday night with tipoff set for 7:30 p.m. Bethlehem Catholic is the number one seed out of District 11 while Honesdale is the number one seed from District 2.
For the game on Saturday, Miller led the Lady Hornets with 15 points, including a pair of three-pointers. Hessling had 12 points, six of them coming in the first quarter which helped propel Honesdale to a big lead, while Martin added 11. Birmlein, Stacey Hart and Parenti all added two points each.
Hessling led all rebounders with 10, five on defense and five on offense. Martin added eight boards and Parenti had four. Miller's nine steals led the Lady Hornets, who had 16 total takeaways in the game.
Amber Renz, a freshman, paced the Lady Ironmen with 12 points but was the only player on the team in double-figures.
"Our defense really played hard," said Ludwig.
She also gave a lot of credit to Martin, whose tenacity for takeaways and ability to play hard all of the time seems to spark everyone else on the team.
"Mary is the heart and soul of this team," said Ludwig.
The coach also credited the fans who support the Lady Hornets week after week.
"We are a small community," she said. "And we have a big community following. It is absolutely tremendous and it's great we are playing one more week and maybe more."
That was very evident following the win by the Lady Hornets.
There were a few hugs and high fives, but not much. It was clear the team was all about the business at hand, knowing they had just advanced to the quarterfinals of the state tournament, something no other Lady Hornets team has done in the history of Honesdale High School.
"We will go back and keep doing what we have been doing," said Ludwig about the next couple of days when the team prepares for its next game. "We are 100 percent committed. We want to go as far as we can, if not all the way."
Page 4 of 4 - Indeed, a year makes a big difference.
Score by quarters
Danville area 10 5 8 7 – 30
Honesdale 14 16 9 5 -- 44