By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
If she had played it by the book, Kelly Griffith would have emptied her bench late in Saturday’s game and given the Mifflinburg reserves some token state playoff time.
Her Wildcats, though, didn’t follow convention this season — no one had them within a country mile of the district championship — so she didn’t either.
Griffith felt it important to dance with the ones who brought her, regardless of how many points a superior Holy Redeemer team piled on, and allow her girls to go down battling.
“Especially the seniors,” said Griffith, “I wanted to let them play their last game out.”
Sara Stauffer, Jackie Beck and Emily Weeder endured a 6-38 stretch over the previous two seasons, so finishing their careers on the floor was as much a tribute as a reward for spearheading the program’s turnaround.
Holy Redeemer, ignited by dynamic junior Alexis Lewis, seized control of the Class AAA first-round game with an eight-point spurt in the middle of the second quarter. The District 3 third-place squad then kept the Wildcats at arm’s length in the third and closed strong, shooting 85 percent in the fourth for a 77-54 win at Shikellamy H.S.
Lewis, the daughter of an NBA draft pick and brother to Penn State receiver Eugene, scored 32 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and had five steals in a performance that eclipsed her hype. She helped stake the Royals to a 17-11 lead after one quarter with seven points and pairs of steals and blocks. She scored at least seven points in each quarter and easily bested her 26.3 season average.
“Alexis Lewis is obviously a very strong player, and our game plan was to slow her down. But, honestly, they’re just a really good team,” said Mifflinburg’s Julia McArdle-Coe. “They penetrated well, they shot well, when they needed to suck it up and work hard they did it. They played really well.
“I’m OK knowing that’s a great team that beat us.”
The Royals (22-5) move to Wednesday’s second round against District 3 fourth-place Fleetwood (24-5), a 39-32 winner over District 1 champ Radnor. Mifflinburg finished its first district championship season at 20-6.
McArdle-Coe (15 points, 6 rebounds) and fellow sophomore Kayla Kline kept their team within striking distance at halftime, combining for all but four points in a 33-23 half.
But the Wildcats made just 3 of 12 shots and committed eight turnovers in the third quarter as Redeemer went up 52-36 at period’s end and pushed the margin as wide as 26.
“It wasn’t really our night,” said Kline, who had team-highs of 18 points and 11 boards. “We had some good shots, they just weren’t going in, (and) we just didn’t play as well on the defensive end as we needed to.”
Lewis scored the Royals’ first seven points and had steals on two of Mifflinburg’s first three touches. The Wildcats inched within 13-9 on consecutive McArdle-Coe buckets inside, and stayed tight until Lewis dropped her first of three 3-pointers early in the second quarter.
The game turned during a stretch of three Mifflinburg turnovers (two steals by Lewis) that fueled an 8-0 Redeemer run. Lewis had four points in the spree that pushed the lead to 13 before Kline halted it with a 3-pointer.
Kline scored five points in the last 34 seconds of the half, but Lewis popped a three to maintain a 10-point edge.
“We always talked about guarding (Lewis), but we let her get open a lot more than we wanted,” said Kline. “I also feel like we didn’t really box out. We thought we had to outrebound them to win the game and we didn’t do it well enough.”
Lewis, who made 14 of 25 shots from the floor, scored seven points in the third quarter, but got help from Lydia Lawson (six of her 10) and Alyssa Platko (four of 14). The Wildcats, meanwhile, scored more points from the foul line (seven) than the floor (six) in the period.
“When they had their run, we missed a lot of shots that I thought were good shots but just weren’t falling for a little bit,” said Griffith. “(Lewis is) a great player. She has a lot in her game, and I also thought she had a lot of nice passes when we tried to double her.”
Redeemer made nine of its first 11 fourth-quarter shots (four by Lewis) and pushed the margin past 20. Stauffer, who left briefly following a second-half collision, scored six of her 10 in the fourth.
“Our kids had a great season,” Griffith said. “I think we played with a ton of heart and played hard. I’m so proud of them.”