---- — By Marion Valanoski
The Daily Item
CATASAUQUA -- Kevin Collins tried to be as diplomatic as a first-year head coach could be following a disheartening loss, and yet the Southern Columbia mentor was realistic Friday.
"We didn't play good enough to win," Collins said.
However, for the better part of three quarters his District 4 Class AA runner-up Tigers gave District 11 champion Notre Dame (Green Pond) all it could handle before untimely turnovers, cold shooting and an impressive second-half showing by the Crusaders resulted in a 58-36 state playoff loss at Catasauqua High School.
Notre Dame opened the third quarter with a five-point outburst from Shannon Moran for a 32-24 lead before Southern Columbia's Mallory Tomaschik wrapped five points around a Kayla Lavella drive that pulled the Tigers to within five.
The Crusaders switched their defense to a 2-2-1 zone press to disrupt Southern's momentum, and the tactic worked almost to perfection.
Moran, scoreless in the first half due to foul trouble, sandwiched steals around Lexi McGivern's putback basket and scored four points. Despite a Lavella 3-pointer, the Tigers' miscues continued to grow and the offense went silent as the Crusaders stormed to a double-digit lead by the end of the third, 42-30.
"The turnovers in the third quarter were killers," Collins said. "We battled to get within five points and then what seemed like just a minute later and we're down by 10 points and fighting an uphill battle."
Poor shooting in the first quarter (4-for-13) forced the Tigers into a 16-8 deficit as Gabby Altmire scored six points and 5-foot-9 forward Bridget McMullan added four.
The second period found the Tigers shaking off the cobwebs. With Lavella bombing twice from long-range and Mackenzie Clark adding a trey, Notre Dame found itself in a game and fighting to maintain composure.
"We scouted Southern in the District 4 championship game and knew their shooters were capable of hitting from long range," Notre Dame coach Josh Kopp said. "Their offense starts with dribble penetration and then kicking it back out to one of several good shooters and you have to go out and play them hard.
"At halftime we decided to try and slow down their tempo by changing our defense and the move worked out just fine."
Southern tried to keep up with the District 11 champion, but the wear and tear in fighting back in the third quarter -- plus the deeper Notre Dame bench -- proved to be too much. The Crusaders (21-5) came at the Tigers with fresh legs, wearing them down with a 30-16 scoring advantage in the second half (including a 16-6 run in the final eight minutes) to punch their ticket to the second round of state play. Southern finished the season with an impressive 19-7 mark.
Moran matched Altmire with 14 points, and McGivern contributed 11 for Notre Dame.
"Southern played well," Kopp said, "and didn't do anything we were not ready for in the game."
Lavella led all scorers with 20 points in her final game, including four treys, which moved her career total past 1,075. The only other Tigers' performer in double figures was Tomaschik with 10.
"There were people who didn't think we were good enough to be here but the coaching staff and players believed in each other," Collins said. "It was a nice ride getting here and would have been fun to get to the second round."