Andrew Robinson (@ADrobinson3)
SHILLINGTON – Sanyiah Littlejohn’s reaction was a mixture of disbelief and almost disappointment.
Maybe it was an internal need to try and get something going for her team, but as Allentown Central Catholic’s Molly Driscoll spun on the baseline and tried to go up with the ball, it was swatted out of her hands and gathered by Littlejohn. The Lansdale Catholic sophomore, who had spent the entire game to that point hounding the Vikettes junior, took a second and looked at the ball in her hands, almost surprised her opponent had even tried it.
Sanyiah Littlejohn (above) played lockdown defense while dishing out five assists in LC's win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
It was that kind of defensive effort from Littlejohn and the Crusaders as a whole, LC clamping down the District 11 champions 49-29 in Saturday’s PIAA 4A quarterfinals played at Governor Mifflin Middle School.
“When she pump fakes, she tries to do a spin-around pull-up so I stayed straight the whole time,” Littlejohn said. “I’ve really worked at forcing a player to their weaknesses. Throughout the game, you can see how they play and you can go make the adjustment.”
Littlejohn finished with two points, took just three shots and handed out five assists offensively but that doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Last year, Littlejohn got initiated with Driscoll when she took over guarding Driscoll in the second half of LC’s eventual win in the 4A second round.
This year, with the teams meeting a round later, Littlejohn was on the assignment from the tap. Driscoll scored two baskets in the first quarter but aside from one breakdown where she allowed the Vikettes guard loose for a three, Littlejohn otherwise kept ACC’s leading scorer under wraps.
Driscoll scored just seven points, 12 points off her season average. That was a win in itself but the residual effect it had on the rest of the offense showed as the game went on.
“There’s no secrets this time of year, we all have film, we’ve all watched and there was a level of familiarity from last year but you don’t know how well a player’s developed but what we did know was that Sanyiah can lock down almost anybody at will,” LC coach Eric Gidney said. “To hold Driscoll to seven points, she just made her work. We knew it was an Allentown Central Catholic team that really relied on her being a playmaker and if you took it out, they would struggle as a result.”
Jaida Helm (2) goes up for a bucket in the second half of Lansdale Catholic's PIAA 4A quarterfinal win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The result, at halftime, was a 6-for-24 shooting effort by the Vikettes that dropped to 4-of-20 with Driscoll’s attempts taken out. Those numbers didn’t get much better in the second half, Driscoll shooting 3-of-11 with every move she made shadowed by Littlejohn who simply refused to bite on the pump-fakes, get stuck on a screen or fall for the feints.
“I wanted to deny her the whole game and take away what she does best,” Littlejohn said. “She had that pull-up jumper and is a shooter. Basically, I came ready to face guard her and knew to go under the screens.”
Gidney said he felt Littlejohn’s defense was so disruptive that even in the ACC guard had hit her averages, it still would have had an effect on the Vikettes offense. With their key cog so well-covered it was hard to even get her the ball, the Vikettes started to get out of their structure and started taking harder and harder shots.
That was most apparent in the third quarter, ACC either turning the ball over or putting up a difficult shot that ended up in a Lansdale Catholic player’s hands off the rebound.
“Everybody else needed to make things and we feel short a little bit of realizing everybody can score,” ACC coach Kathy Davidowich said. “We didn’t get that balanced scoring. They’re a very good team, they took us out of our offense and out of our game and we couldn’t score.”
Missing shots is difficult to make up for, it’s even harder when the other team grabs every miss in sight as LC did after a little bit of a lax start on the glass. Gidney explained it as a natural progression of his players worrying about the other team and not the shot before understanding they had to start boxing out.
In the end, Lansdale Catholic dominated the rebounding battle with Davidowich citing that as the deciding margin in the game. Gabby Casey and Jaida Helm, who led LC with 18 and 13 points respectively, were the two main culprits as the senior duo each pulled down 11 boards and drained the opportunity out of the game for the Vikettes.
“Driscoll, we had to make her shots more difficult and Saniyah did a really good job on her so we could lock down everybody else,” Helm said. “She got to spots before Driscoll did, she made it harder for her to do her little pull-ups, got her hand in (Driscoll’s) face, she was just on her all night being a pest.
“Sanyiah’s really good at doing that.”
Olivia Boccella (above) added 11 points, including this third-quarter 3-pointer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
LC led 25-15 at half then opened the third on a tear, scoring nine straight points to open the frame and pushing off every Allentown Central Catholic turnover or missed shot. Littlejohn was involved plenty there as well, the guard hitting two of her five assists in the stretch before she closed the quarter with a strong take to the rim for her only points.
While she’s been light on points this postseason, the second-year starter can lay claim to a good amount of LC’s production as her passing has been terrific. Saturday, she hit Olivia Boccella for an easy catch-and-hit three then put a ball on the money down low to Casey, the senior needing to just go up and finish on the baseline.
All five of LC’s starters can handle the ball but it’s telling that when the team slows up or goes to a set play, they all give it up to Littlejohn to start the action.
"I'm just looking to be a great point guard and dish out the ball," Littlejohn said. "If we get open looks, then we can convert and that's what's going to get us the win. Last year, I was just getting a feel for how my team plays and I've gotten better at it."
Up next for the Crusaders is District 2 champion Scranton Prep on Tuesday.
LC is back in the state semis, familiar territory for most of the team aside from Helm, who is making her first trip this far into the PIAA bracket. The senior said it’s not a cause to celebrate yet, buying into the same mentality the rest of the team has after last year’s run to Hershey.
“Last year when I walked into the locker room after we beat Delone Catholic, I got drenched with water, because I think it was a surprise and a huge accomplishment,” Gidney said. “This time when I walked in the locker room, they were all business. They’re looking at it like ‘we’ll part after Hershey,’ and listen, I love that. That’s what we need to be this year.”
Lansdale Cath.: 15 | 10 | 13 | 11 || 49
Allentown CC: 8 | 7 | 7 | 7 || 29
Lansdale Cath.: 19-46 FG (4-16 3PT), 7-9 FT
Allentown CC: 12-49 FG (3-11 3PT), 2-2 FT
LC: Gabby Casey 18, Jaida Helm 13, Olivia Boccella 11, Nadia Yemola 5, Sanyiah Littlejohn 2
ACC: Madi Szoke 14, Molly Driscoll 7, Abbey Koforth 6, Lauren Egan
Tag(s): Home High School Andrew Robinson Girls HS Catholic League (G) Lansdale Catholic