For three quarters, it looked like the Honesdale Lady Hornets might be continuing the dream.
— For three quarters, it looked like the Honesdale Lady Hornets might be continuing the dream.
Then the wheels fell off.
"We just started to get hesitant," said Honesdale Coach Tracy Ludwig. "We didn't attack them."
The Lady Hornets were playing in the second round of the PIAA Division AAA state basketball playoffs in the expanse of the Hazleton High School gymnasium on Wednesday night.
Down by 10 at one point, the Lady Hornets fought tooth and nail with the much taller girls from Bethlehem Central Catholic and led by as much as six at one point in the third quarter.
But the Golden Hawks turned things around in the fourth quarter and ended up with a 56-42 victory.
That score was not indicative of the game.
Honesdale got off to a rough start in the game, unlike a week earlier when they bolted to a big lead.
This time, it was Bethlehem Catholic who got out front early, leading 5-0 with less than a minute gone by in the first period.
But at the 6:16 mark, Honesdale senior forward Natasha Hessling powered her way inside the lane, canned a layup and was hacked in the process. She subsequently swished the free throw and it was a 5-3 contest.
By the 5:15 mark, Catholic was up 9-5 and a three-pointer by Kalista Walters on a fast break moved it to 14-5.
With just over a minute to go, the Golden Hawks had pushed the margin to 10 points at 19-9.
But the Lady Hornets would fight back in the final minute.
Sophomore Katie Miller banked a shot off the glass at 1:02 and then the Lady Hornets forced another turnover. Miller sank one of two free throws and Catholic led 19-12 with :33 left.
A rebound basket by Walters made it 21-12 but Miller forced a steal on an inbounds pass and promptly sank a layup as time expired with Honesdale trailing 21-14 at the end of the first stanza.
"We were going to go down and keep banging inside," said Ludwig.
In fact, that was the game plan all along for the Lady Hornets.
Despite having a major size disadvantage, the team simply kept taking the ball to the basket — and it worked.
"They could have folded early," said Catholic Coach Bill Lanscek about the Lady Hornets. "But they took it to us."
That's exactly what happened in the second quarter when the tenacious Honesdale defense kicked into warp drive and the offense decided it was time to dance with tall trees on the inside.
A free throw by Miller made it 21-15 and at the 7:38 mark, senior Mary Martin grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball back up and through the net to close the score to 21-17.
But that basket had a lot more significance than closing the gap to four points.
It was the 1,000th point in the career of Martin, a player Ludwig has called "the heart and soul" of the team.
In a nice gesture, the referees stopped play and Martin was presented the ball and a bouquet of flowers for her accomplishment.
When play resumed, the Golden Hawks scored on a pair of free throws but the Lady Hornets would then begin to turn the wick up a notch.
At 6:02, Morgan Birmelin, a sophomore, sank a pair of free throws to close the gap to 23-19.
It was nearly three more minutes before either team would score again. That happened at the 3:07 mark when Birmelin sliced through the lane and hit an inside shot to close the gap to 23-21.
On the next possession, the Lady Hornets forced yet another turnover and at 1:45, Hessling converted a fast-break layup, was fouled, hit the free throw and Honesdale had its first lead of the game at 24-23.
A single free throw by Bridget Smith of Catholic at 1:11 knotted the score at 24-24 and that's how it would end at halftime.
"I never met a girl who worked so hard for a thousand points," said Ludwig about Martin's accomplishment in the second quarter of the game.
Interestingly, Martin would have never had the chance to get to that benchmark had the Lady Hornets not won their opening round game and advanced deeper into the state tournament than the team did the previous season.
When the horn sounded to start the third quarter, you could sense the excitement building among the large contingent of Honesdale fans who made the trek down Interstate 81 for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff on a school night.
Bethlehem Central Catholic actually led a couple of times in the third period.
They scored on the opening play to lead 26-24 but Birmelin came right back with a fast-break bucket to knot it at 26-26. Miller came right back with another fast break basket off another steal at the 6:00 mark and the Lady Hornets were up 28-26.
Janelle Robinson from Catholic, who was playing in her first game in five weeks, then canned a three-point basket and the Golden Hawks led 29-28. Robinson, who had been out with an abdomen injury, would end up leading all scorers with 19 points.
"It was really nice to have Janelle back," said Lanscek in an understatement.
Hessling grabbed a big rebound on the next series but was called for traveling, something which didn't set well with the Honesdale faithful. But she then redeemed herself and managed a steal.
The ball was fed inside to Miller, who put it in and the Lady Hornets led 30-29.
The roof almost came off the building at the 3:30 mark when Miller launched a three-pointer that found nothing but net and the Lady Hornets were up 33-29.
At the 2:17 mark, Hessling nailed an inside jumper and Honesdale led 35-30 with momentum seemingly on their side.
The Lady Hornets had stretched the lead to 38-32 on a big three-pointer by Miller with 1:17 to go in the third. But at :46, Smith had the ball and was fouled by Miller. It was a costly foul on the sophomore, her third.
When the buzzer sounded at the end of the third quarter, the Lady Hornets were up 38-33 and the fans were on their feet.
It didn't take long, however, for that excitement to turn to disappointment in the fourth quarter.
"Our girls got frustrated," said Ludwig. "But the heart of these girls is unbelievable. All the way to the very end."
But it simply wasn't enough at the start of the fourth quarter. Catholic would reel off seven unanswered points and the score was suddenly 40-38 in favor of the Golden Hawks.
A bucket by Martin on the inside would knot the score at 40-40 with 4:28 left to go in the game. Less than a minute later Martin picked up her fourth foul.
At that point in the game, the wheels really came off for the Lady Hornets and Catholic scored the next 12 points of the game to lead 52-40 and ice the victory.
During that stretch, Martin fouled out with 2:20 to play and the with under a minute, Miller picked up her fifth personal.
Bermlein then fouled out after that and the game was over. Catholic would score the 56-42 victory and advances to the final eight of the state tournament.
"That was a very good team," said Lanscek of the Lady Hornets. "They have very fast hands."
Lanscek said it "surprised us" that Honesdale came out taking the ball right to the basket where they had a distinct height disadvantage.
Ludwig said that was the plan all along and it worked for a good portion of the contest.
Although Ludwig was visibly disappointed with the loss, she said the girls will continue to work hard and be back again next year.
"It is disappointing," said Ludwig. "But these girls will be right back in the gym."
Ludwig said after the game, the coaching staff brought a list of goals which were set by the team at the beginning of the season.
Those goals included winning the conference and becoming the number one seed. It also included beating Scranton Prep, something they did get done in the league tournament.
"You did it," Ludwig said she told her players, noting going this far in the state tournament was not even on the list.
"I am so proud of them," said Ludwig.
For the game, Miller led Honesdale in scoring with 16 points, including a pair of three-pointers, while Martin added 10. Hessling chipped in with eight, Birmlein had six and Jackie Gallik added two.
Also seeing action in the game were Jessica Carney, Stacey Hart and Kristen Schmale.
Honesdale hit 10 of 14 free throws in the contest.
Robinson led Bethlehem Central Catholic with 19 and teammate Walters added 14. Robinson sank nine free throws in the fourth stanza to help ice the game.
Honesdale — 14 10 14 4 — 42
Bethlehem 21 3 9 23 — 56