'Kind of unbelievable': Westmont Hilltop girls soak up atmosphere, prepare for state final

Mar. 21—The Westmont Hilltop High School girls basketball team spent this week performing a balancing act while preparing for Thursday's PIAA Class 3A championship game at the Giant Center in Hershey.

"It's kind of unbelievable," Westmont Hilltop coach Brittany Eisenhuth said.

"I'm trying to soak it all in, and I'm telling the girls to soak it all in. It's easier said than done. So much is going on.

"We're trying to still have that next-game mentality and trying to treat it like any other game, which sounds impossible."

The District 6 runner-up Hilltoppers (23-4) will play for PIAA gold against District 3 champion Lancaster Catholic (28-2) at 6 p.m. Thursday.

The Hilltoppers will make their first trip to the state final since 2006, when the then-Class 2A Westmont Hilltop team finished as PIAA runner-up for a second straight season. This is the program's third appearance in the title game at Hershey.

Lancaster Catholic will return to the state championship game for the first time since the undefeated Crusaders beat Berks Catholic for the 2018 crown.

"We'll focus on everything we want to do," Eisenhuth said. "It's impossible, but we're trying to treat it like any other game. Stay focused. Handle the task. Don't let the hugeness of the game get in the way we're playing right now."

Westmont Hilltop has an eight-player roster fronted by junior Christiana Gordon, a 2023 all-state player who has made a strong bid for a repeat honor.

But Gordon isn't a one-player act.

Senior Beth Buettner, juniors Zoey Lynch and Aubrie Shingler and freshman Devyn Shingler each have played important roles as the wins started to accumulate in the postseason. Junior Mackenzie Davis-Reese and freshmen Maggie O'Neil and Taylor Yoder round out the lineup.

"Most teams try to focus all-in on me," Gordon said earlier in the PIAA run. "When people come to double (team), I know to kick it out. I know that my other players can score just as much as I can score. I believe in them."

Belief in these Hilltoppers has spread throughout the community.

Westmont Hilltop dominated in a 46-16 semifinal victory over District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep Monday at Clarion University.

"It's a tribute to these girls," Eisenhuth said. "They really grew up and stepped up. We understand if a team wants to take one person away, we have to step up — and another person can step up."

The Hilltoppers beat District 7 champion Shady Side Academy 47-41 in a quarterfinal at Norwin High School, snapping the Bulldogs' 20-game winning streak.

In the second round, Eisenhuth's team had to adapt after learning of a site change a few hours before the game against District 7 sixth-seeded Seton LaSalle Catholic. The game was moved from Hempfield Area High School to Charleroi High School due to a water pressure issue. Westmont Hilltop wasn't fazed in a 54-48 win.

In the first round, the host Hilltoppers eliminated District 7 fourth seed Beaver Falls 57-36.

Westmont Hilltop hasn't lost since a 45-32 setback to Forest Hills in the District 6-3A title game at Mount Aloysius College.

In fact, three of the Hilltoppers' four losses were to Forest Hills.

The other was a 67-63 triple overtime setback at Bishop McCort Catholic on Jan. 25.

Eisenhuth appreciates the progress her players have made.

"We weren't used to playing with each other (early in the season)," the Hilltoppers coach said.

"That trust wasn't there and people were trying to do too much. Now, we have that trust in each other.

"If someone takes a player away, others rise up. As long as everybody is contributing in some way, that's our goal.

"We all have the same goal. We want to win a basketball game. Whatever contribution you can make, that's what we're going to take."

Lancaster Catholic beat District 4 runner-up Loyalsock 53-43 in Monday's semifinal at Shamokin High School. The Crusaders had reached the 2023 semifinal round and returned all five starters from that team.

Lancaster Catholic has won 12 consecutive games.

The Crusaders' losses came against Cardinal O'Hara (54-41) on Dec. 16 and Spring-Ford (67-51) on Jan. 28. They have 24 wins in their past 25 games.

"They're a tough team," Eisenhuth said. "They're going to play pressure, in-your-face, man-to-man.

"They try to get up and down the floor.

"They have a really good point guard (senior Mary Bolesky), No. 20, a lefty," Eisenhuth said. "She is super-quick and can shoot the ball.

"She controls the whole game for them, but they also have other girls who can shoot the ball and get to the rim."

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.