---- — By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
MILTON -- Southern Columbia coach Kevin Collins made an interesting decision before Wednesday night's District 4 Class AA girls basketball semifinal with Lewisburg at Milton High School.
"We started the game in our man defense. It's something we've been practicing, but I'll admit we're still not very good at it," Collins said. "But I think when we start the game in (man); it helps our offense play better.
"We could always change to a defense that we play better."
It turned out to be the right decision to get the Tigers into the district finals.
With the man defense getting the Tigers into an offensive groove early, Collins switched to a diamond-and-one defense for the final three quarters as Southern Columbia never trailed in a 54-40 victory over Lewisburg.
"To be honest, I think it's about time (we played well). We've been struggling offensively. It's been our defense winning us games," Collins said. "It was nice to see us come around a little bit. We really got back into an offensive groove."
Southern Columbia (19-5) advances to play top-seed Mount Carmel, a 73-44 victor over Muncy in the other semifinal. The Tigers and Red Tornadoes have split two meetings this season.
Lewisburg drops to 17-8 and faces Muncy in the consolation game for a berth in the PIAA playoffs.
"We have to regroup. We have to get our heads up and get back at it," Lewisburg coach Phil Stamm said. "I think we have a talented team, so if we prepare we can win the consolation game."
The Tigers led by eight at the half, but the Green Dragons put together a 9-2 run to open the third quarter. Maria Kelleher's 3-pointer pulled Lewisburg within 29-28 with 3:08 left in the third.
However, Kayla Lavella answered immediately with a 3-pointer for the Tigers. That started a 10-2 run that saw Southern Columbia build a 37-28 lead after a 3-pointer by Kirstin Blass.
The Dragons would cut it to seven on a Lois Lesher put back late in the third, but a third-quarter buzzer-beater by Blass started seven consecutive points by Southern to take a 46-32 lead with 6:21 left in the game.
Kelleher and Haley Stocko would each hit 3-pointers for the Green Dragons to keep them within striking distance, but Southern's defense held Lewisburg to just one field goal in the final 3:34 to pull away.
Mackenzie Clark and Lavella each scored 14 points to lead four Southern Columbia players in double figures. Blass finished with 12 points, while Mallory Tomaschik chipped in 10 points. Blass added nine rebounds and three assists. Clark had six rebounds, five assists and four steals. Stocko led the Green Dragons with 11 points, while Lesher finished with eight points and nine boards. Kelleher had nine points, all on 3-pointers.