Crusaders knock off Cardinals


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ORWIGSBURG - Championship No. 20 will have to wait.

Friday, March 1 just wasn't Pine Grove's night.

Instead, the night belonged to Notre Dame-Green Pond.

Lexi McGivern's clutch fourth-quarter shooting helped the Crusaders upend top-seeded Pine Grove 45-39 for the District 11 Class AA championship at Blue Mountain.

McGivern knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers within 51 seconds of each other to give Notre Dame the cushion it needed to put away the Cardinals (22-4).

"Huge. Huge," Notre Dame coach Josh Kopp said. "We were down. She hits those shots. That's a senior stepping up. That's a four-year varsity player, a three-year starter stepping in and knowing what's on the line. She wants the ball in her hands. She made some big shots."

The Crusaders (20-5) and Cardinals traded blows for most of the night with Pine Grove seizing a 30-29 lead on Lauren Thompson's pull-up jumper with 6:11 left in the game.

McGivern answered.

Twice.

"I think it just gave us the drive that we needed to give us the energy we needed to finish the game," McGivern said. "We all knew we could win. We just needed to make the shots. Each person on the team did their jobs. It was just a total team effort."

Earlier in the night, McGivern hoisted a shot that didn't connect with anything. The Pine Grove student section let the 5-foot-7 guard hear about it.

"I heard it. They kept yelling 'Airball,' " McGivern said. "But you know what, you're going to take shots. You're going to miss. It just gave me more determination to make another shot."

McGivern finished with a team-high 15 points and was complemented by 13 from teammate Gabby Altimire and 11 from classmate Shannon Moran, who hit a game-tying triple to end the third quarter.

"Shannon Moran, the same way," Kopp said. "She hit that shot to tie it at the end of the third. They were going crazy like it was a buzzer-beater. I think that was key, Shannon Moran hitting that shot at the end of the quarter to get us back to an even game. I think that was a big play."

Perhaps even more important than the shots was the way the Crusaders' defense kept Pine Grove's typically unshakable offense out of sync for most of the evening.

Notre Dame entered the game wanting to play man-to-man, but when the Cardinals got off to a 16-11 start in the first quarter, the game plan changed.

The Crusaders went to a 1-3-1 zone after Thompson, Shannon Zimmerman, Samantha Bertasavage and Becky Evans shared balanced scoring in the opening frame.

"Give them a lot of credit. I think, for whatever reason, I think the atmosphere got to us a little bit," Pine Grove coach Chris George said. "Nothing against Martz Hall, but this is definitely a tighter, louder gym than what we've been in. Their defensive switches early seemed to affect us early, more so than it usually does. We didn't adjust well to much of anything tonight."

After making 6-of-11 from the field in the first quarter, the Cardinals struggled the rest of the night. Pine Grove finished 16-of-41 (.390) from the floor and turned the ball over 16 times.

The Cardinals also attempted just four free throws after averaging nearly 14 attempts per contest in their first 25 games.

"We had opportunities to kind of go strong and finish, and we didn't," George said. "We kicked out. I'll take that as a coach. Maybe we didn't make that an emphasis point. We thought we focused on it, but maybe we should have probably been a little more assertive in terms of being patient in our offense, getting the shots that we wanted to. If we would have attacked the hole, it probably would have helped us."

Evans started attacking the bucket in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her game-high 18 points in the frame.

Those buckets weren't enough as McGivern's triples and the Crusaders' 10-of-14 performance at the charity stripe in the game's final 2:28 helped seal that program's sixth district title and first since 1995.

"Pine Grove's the class of 2A, really just their history, and I give them a lot of credit. They have a terrific team," Kopp said. "Our team just was fantastic tonight, defensively. Our kids really rose to the occasion tonight. I'm just really proud of their effort overall."

Both teams advance to the PIAA Tournament. Pine Grove is facing the District 12 runners-up, Imhotep Charter.

"We basically told them the nice thing for you guys is this is kind of a reprieve," George said. "You're in a tournament, you lost and you're still alive. How many teams have that opportunity? Take advantage of it.

"The Tamaqua loss for us (to end the regular season) was our first in almost two months. We responded great in the league playoffs. I'm optimistic that we're going to do the same thing, hopefully with a successful start to our state playoff run."

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