LC ends Thorpe’s season
Skyler Searfoss (21) of Jim Thorpe brings the ball up the court against Lansdale Catholic during Saturday’s PIAA Class 4A State playoff. RON GOWER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS.
POTTSVILLE - It was a magical 2018-19 season for the Jim Thorpe girl’s basketball team. A 22-0 undefeated regular season, a Schuylkill League title and a District 11 Class 4A championship game appearance, as well as a state tournament berth, were all firsts for the program.
One of the reasons the Olympians have been so good has been their ability to create turnovers, while taking care of the basketball on the offensive end. Unfortunately for Thorpe, those roles were reversed on Saturday against a tough Lansdale Catholic team from District 12. Critical late game turnovers, paired with foul trouble, aided the Crusaders to come away with a 50-48 victory.
It was a back-and-forth affair throughout, with no team holding more than an eight-point lead, which is exactly the kind-of game Lansdale Catholic was hoping for. A battle tested team from the Philadelphia Catholic League thought that if it could keep the game close going into the fourth quarter, it would have a chance to win the game.
“We knew coming in that besides a handful of games, they weren’t really tested too much or challenged very much late in games. We’ve been challenged a lot throughout the season with our schedule. Our girls have been there before this season, they’ve been down and battled back, and our girls just never lost their composure,” said Crusaders head coach Eric Gidney. “Whether we’re up 10 or down 10, we always keep our heads down and keep battling, because you never know the difference that kind of effort and execution is going to make.”
By all accounts, the Crusaders never did give up, and they had plenty of chances to. Thorpe (26-2) led for the first three quarters, holding a three-point lead after one, a two-point lead at the half and a four-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
The Olympians looked primed to finish off the Crusaders in the final quarter after closing the third strong. Thorpe’s Olivia Smelas ended the quarter with an inside deuce, as she cemented herself as the most dominant player on the floor in the third, scoring 12 of her game-high 18 points. She also finished with a game-high 12 rebounds.
But foul trouble changed all of that in the fourth. Smelas picked up her fourth foul, and Lansdale Catholic took advantage. Without Smelas in the lineup, the Olympians offense took a step back and the Crusaders were able to convert off a host of Thorpe turnovers. JT turned it over a total of five times, which helped Lansdale Catholic go on a huge 9-0 run, flipping a 37-33 Thorpe lead to a five-point advantage. With the Crusaders leading by one, back-to-back turnovers by Thorpe led to back-to-back transition buckets by Timaya Lewis-Eutsey to give them a 42-37 lead with 4:56 remaining.
“We always talk about how we can’t afford to get in foul trouble and we did, it happens, it’s part of the game. I think that was the difference today, when Liv (Smelas) went to the bench in the second, they got back into the game, and when she went to the bench late in the game, they got back into it,” said Jim Thorpe head coach Rob Kovac. “And we just had too many late-game turnovers, and I thought, which was uncharacteristic of us, some were unforced and unnecessary. But again, the key was when Liv went to the bench, it was just a whole other dynamic.”
The big lead swing was a backbreaker for Thorpe, but it did have a chance to tie the game with just under 30 seconds left. Trailing by two, the Olympians had an inbound play setup under their basket, with the ball ending up in the corner with Natalia Richards, but a block on a Richards three-point attempt went the other way with Lewis-Eutsey finishing in transition to put the game away.
Still, even with the loss, it was an unprecedented season for the Olympians.
“I told our girls in a few days when the sting of this one goes away, we’ll all look back on the season and smile,” added Kovac. “We accomplished a lot this season, and this is tough now, this is the cruelty part of March. I know we’re gonna ask ourselves ‘what if,’ but we do need to look back on all the good things from this season.”
THORPE LEADERS ... Skyler Searfoss added 11 points, while Leila Hurley chipped in with 10.
TURNOVER TOWN ... Thorpe finished the game with 17 turnovers. Its five turnovers in the fourth quarter were the difference.
M. Rosenberger 0-0-0-0, Lewis-Eutsey 7-3-8-17, Erwin 1-4-5-6, Smith 4-0-0-12, Finkelston 2-1-5-5, Babb 1-1-2-3, DeVitis 1-3-5-5, C. Rosenberger 1-0-0-2. TOTALS: 17-12-25-50.
Richards 2-2-2-7, Scott 0-1-2-1, Snisky 0-1-2-1, Hurley 3-3-4-10, Searfoss 2-6-7-11, Smelas 9-0-0-18. TOTALS: 16 13-17 48.
Lansdale Cath. 12 8 13 17 — 50
Jim Thorpe 15 7 15 11 — 48
Three-pointers: LC - Smith 4; JT - Richards 1, Hurley 1, Searfoss 1.