By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Depending on your preference, it took the Lewisburg girls either 32 minutes of game time or just 3 1/2 Wednesday to prove themselves contenders for the Heartland-II championship.
The Green Dragons played a strong defensive game from start to finish. They clamped down on Warrior Run stars Steph Shamburg and Tay Parker. They blocked 13 shots and maybe altered as many. They forced 24 turnovers.
With those facts as a backdrop, it’s easier to picture how the 52-35 final came to pass.
In the third period, though, a 12-point Green Dragons’ lead was slashed to four with plenty of game left to play. Over the following 3 1/2 minutes, the Dragons scored on six consecutive possessions to push their advantage into the teens. The noteworthy aspect of the 12-2 run was that five Lewisburg players had buckets during it.
“We have a number girls who are confident to knock down some shots,” said Dragons coach Phil Stamm. “Those girls definitely can step up, and I think that’s going to be a big strength for us throughout the season.”
Lewisburg teams have played good defense in recent years, but they haven’t always had more than one or two consistent scoring threats. That could be the difference between finishing as a middle-of-the-pack team in the division or challenging reigning champ Mount Carmel, which the Dragons (3-1, 1-0 HAC-II) visit Saturday night.
Warrior Run (3-1, 0-1) lost for the first time as their inside-outside combination of Shamburg (18 points) and Parker (2) were held far below their combined scoring average.
“It’s no secret: Steph and Tay have got to come ready to play,” said Defenders coach Jon Weaver. “Steph has 18 but it’s very quiet, and Tay as our four-year point guard has got to play better. That’s what it comes down to.
“They just played harder than we did. They wanted it more than us.”
Lewisburg senior Maria Kelleher scored a season-high 27 points (boosting her four-game average to 19.5) and had five steals. Sophomore Emily Conrad had eight points, four rebounds and four blocked shots. Senior post Lois Lesher had four points to go with six rebounds and six blocks.
“I’d rather get a block than a made shot,” said Lesher. “I’m a really defensive-minded player and I love doing that. All of us try to go for the block as much as we can.”
The teams scored at a blistering pace from the start, with Shamburg’s first four points staking the Defenders to an early 9-7 lead. Kelleher and Lenore Doyle hit consecutive 3-pointers to put Lewisburg up 13-11 at a point when the teams were a combined 9-of-20.
As the half continued, however, Shamburg’s touches were fewer and farther between, and — particularly in the second quarter — the Dragons were erasing more and more shots.
“She’s a really tough player, so we committed a lot of help to (Shamburg) and tried to switch different players to keep a fresh body on her,” said Shamburg. “We did try to limit her touches and frustrate her a little bit. I thought we did a great job and she still got 18 (points); she’s a talented player.”
Conrad buried a trey early in the second quarter, and Kelleher scored nine straight points for a 27-15 lead. The Defenders closed within 27-21 with six straight free throws in the final two minutes.
Then, after not taking a shot in the first 1:40 of the second half for turnovers, Warrior Run got within four. Abby Fisher, Shamburg and Parker scored on consecutive trips to make it 31-27. The Defenders followed it with two turnovers and two shots that were stuffed.
“We’ve been working really hard in practice on our defense and moving our feet instead of being lazy and just reaching in,” said Lesher.
Lewisburg turned 31-27 into 43-29 in a flash. Kasey Conrad put back a miss; Kelleher went strong to the basket twice in a row; Lesher scored near the foul line; Doyle hit from the right wing; and Haley Stanko banked in an elbow jumper.
The Dragons kept the lead in the teens in the last quarter.
“They caught fire there for a while ... but as soon as we cut it to four we threw the ball away several times,” said Weaver. “Turnovers killed us.”