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Meadowbrook Christian learns from district loss

Mar. 8—Kailey Devlin has probably seen more gimmicks during her basketball career than the U.S. Patent office.

Not many unconventional defenses achieved the desired effect of limiting the Meadowbrook Christian senior's scoring, however. Fewer still have been played against her as well as St. John Neumann did in last week's District 4 Class A final.

The second-seeded Golden Knights tapped junior Shanniyah Tutler to shadow Devlin, while sophomore Bre Nixon checked Lions soph Maddy Fasnacht from the tip of the championship game rematch.

For one quarter there were no red flags from Meadowbrook's perspective.

Fasnacht, who has nearly tripled her scoring average to 12.2 ppg. in a breakout second varsity season, got shots easily enough and scored six points in the Lions' 8-6 lead.

Devlin, now well-versed in letting the game to come her, started in the comfortable facilitator role that fed her team-high clip of 2.7 assists. She didn't attempt a first-quarter shot, and it was more than a minute into the second period when she curled around a screen near the right elbow for a jumper that was off the mark.

Two trips later, Devlin missed a 3-pointer early in the possession, which, again, was no cause for alarm. Despite her 0-for-2 start in the face of Tutler's sticky man-to-man — and the team's nine turnovers in the opening 11-plus minutes — Meadowbrook led 12-6 thanks in large part to forcing 15 Neumann turnovers.

No, the Lions' issues weren't laid bare until the final 4 1/2 minutes of the first half. During that stretch, they committed seven more turnovers and scored just one Emma George basket, while senior post Alayna Smith joined Devlin and Fasnacht with two fouls apiece. Neumann led 18-14 at the break, and by the time Devlin made her first bucket with 2:43 to play in the third quarter the margin was 30-18.

Meadowbrook did not hit more than three field goals in any quarter of its 44-27 loss, finishing 11-of-41 from the field. Fasnacht settled for a team-high nine points on 3-of-14 shooting, while Devlin's six points were her fewest in a game this year with the exception of a 23-22 win over Muncy in which she scored five.

"We've gotta execute, but that's not the team we saw last year (in the district final) and they found all our holes," said Devlin, who finished 2-of-9. "We've just got to prepare if we, maybe, see them later. (The loss) has to be on us, but kudos to them for the way they played.

"It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth," she added, "so you can yield to one of two results: Either you wallow and sulk, or you go and play harder the next time. I think we've got to keep moving forward and learn from this rather than be upset about it."

The Lions (25-2) scored fewer than 32 points only three times all season; they still average 41 per game after last week's struggle. And while it's a concern the degree to which Neumann's defense short-circuited their offense, it's also worth bearing in mind Tutler's individual effort that was at its heart.

"The thing I appreciate about her," Meadowbrook coach Shane Devlin said, "the other kids that have played Kailey, typically their only job is to be in there to play defense on her, and they will hug and grab and pull. It's just a physical, brutal style of defense with the other kids that do the box-and-one. She plays very good defense — good basketball defense. She's quick, she's in her face, and it's clean."

Kailey Devlin took nine shots or fewer in six other games this season — all Lions' wins — and she scored more points in all of them save that Muncy matchup.

"I've seen a lot of good defenders, and (Tutler is) right up there with the best of them," she said. "It all comes down to being able to hit the shots I normally hit and create some offense. I'm going to see good defense everywhere."

That promises to be the case in the state tournament, where Meadowbrook begins play today at 6 p.m. against Nativity BVM (7-17) at St. John Neumann Regional in Williamsport. Nativity placed third in the Districts 2/11 subregional to qualify for states. The Golden Girls were crowned District 11 champions in the consolation win over Bethlehem Christian, 41-38.

Neumann (22-4) and Lourdes Regional (16-9) — the only teams that beat Meadowbrook this season — also begin Class A state tournament play today, as does Greenwood (15-11). This season marks the first time since 1977 that all the girls state qualifiers from the Daily Item coverage area compete in the same classification. That year was the last before the PIAA expanded from two classes to three in girls basketball. By 1984, there were four classes.

It's the second consecutive state playoff appearance for Meadowbrook, which won the program's first district title last season before reaching the state quarterfinals.

"We intentionally upped the schedule that we have to try to prepare for these kinds of games," said Shane Devlin. "And I said to the sophomores, who don't know any different, they are 52-5 in the last two years. They're going to look back on this for the rest of their lives and this is going to be a really special time with a lot of special memories.

"I don't think the group that's freshmen and sophomores understand how special this really is. Now, juniors and seniors — especially the seniors who were 1-9 a couple years ago and basically had to win out to make districts — they appreciate and understand what this means."