Linden Hall wins first District Championship

While they play in the MAC Conference, they play right up the block so it’s fun to watch this great team.

A year ago however, in the same game in the same building, Linden Hall came up short and watched as Lebanon Catholic win the District 3, Class 2A Title.

But this year, was their year.

In the days leading up to the Lady Lions’ battle against powerhouse York Catholic, his gut feeling told him that 6-foot-1 junior forward Favour Mbeledeogu was on top of her game.

“She’s got a fantastic jump shot,” Kauffman said, “and she’s 6-foot-1, so nobody’s going to block it, and she was just feeling it this week.”

Linden Hall’s boss couldn’t have been more right.

As it turned out, Mbeledeogu buried three treys in the opening quarter to help the Lady Lions jump out to a quick 23-7 advantage after one.

It was a lead the Linden Hall girls (18-3) never relinquished, as they went on to beat York Catholic 56-27 at the Giant Center in Hershey to capture their first-every District Three championship.

“It means so much,” said 6-foot-2 senior forward Hetta Saatman, who finished with nine rebounds and a game-high 14 points. “It’s the first time in school history and I’m so proud that we did it and I’m so proud that I got to do it with my team.”

The Lady Lions got close last season, but suffered a 46-36 loss to Lebanon Catholic in the District Three Single-A finals. A year earlier, Linden Hall lost to the Lady Beavers 53-31 in the semi-finals.

This time, against a York Catholic program which has won 13 District Three girls basketball titles, the Linden Hall girls wouldn’t be denied.

“We just needed a little more aging, a little more seasoning,” Kauffman said, “and this year, we were ready.”

If there was any doubt, it quickly scattered in the first quarter, as Mbeledeogu’s ‘three’ gave Linden Hall a 10-2 advantage at the 4:30 mark.

“She’s an amazing catch-and-shoot kind of player and she did that tonight,” said Saatman, a Drexel University recruit. “That’s her role on the team and that’s what she did and I’m really proud of her.”

The Fighting Irish (18-7) climbed back within 12-7 on Kady Rader’s ‘three,’ but the Lady Lions ended the quarter on a 11-0 run, capped with 3-point prayer at the buzzer from Mbeledeogu.

“Oh my goodness, we got so hyped after that,” Saatman said. “You get some butterflies, like, ‘Yeah, we got this, we’re doing this,’ and it gets the adrenaline pumping. It’s amazing.”

Linden Hall’s D was also amazing forcing nine of York Catholic’s 20 turnovers in the first. Plus, with a solid corps of quick guards, combined with five players 5-foot-11 or taller, the Lady Lions held the Fighting Irish to 11-of-55 shooting (20 percent) from the floor.

“We can beat you a number of ways,” Kauffman said, “and that’s one of the differences with our team.”

“We pride ourselves on our defense,” Saatman said. “The energy we get from a block is awesome.”

York Catholic, though, didn’t go away, and when Linden Hall got a little sloppy with its passing game in the second quarter, leading to eight giveaways, the Fighting Irish cut its deficit to 26-16 following Drew Kile’s three-point play and Samantha Bulik’s J with 2:15 left in the half. Junior Gabby Coley paced the York Catholic girls with eight points.

“They understand that if we play sloppy basketball, it’s contagious and it gets contagious in a hurry,” Kauffman said. “I was not happy with the crispness of our passing in the second quarter and I challenged them at halftime to clean that up.”

Clean it up they did, and a 12-0 run to start the third quarter, capped by Saatman’s fastbreak layup, pushed Linden Hall’s lead to 40-16.

“The most important thing is we didn’t dwell on the change in score from the first quarter to the second quarter too much,” Saatman said. “We kept our confidence, and that was really important because if we came out here, like, ‘Oh no, they’re coming up on us’ we could have second-guessed ourselves and it could have caused a lot of problems.”

Linden Hall was still in the driver’s seat, leading 42-23, at period’s end, and when senior guard Tahri Phillips dropped in a layup to finish an 8-0 burst to open the fourth, making it 50-23 with 5:51 left, that was basically the ball game.

“The last five years, we’ve been competitive,” Kauffman said, “and now, I guess you’d say we’re at the mountaintop. It’s fun.”

Everyone knew about Linden Hall’s height. The program has four players who stand 6 feet or taller, including 6-foot-2 Drexel commit Hetta Saatman and 6-foot-5 Mercy Ademusayo.
Add in a talented group of guards that can handle the ball and break any press, well, York Catholic knew it had drawn a tough matchup.