Jenna Dombach saved her best performance for possibly the final home game of her stellar career.
Solanco's senior guard served as the primary ball-handler against Northern Lebanon's stifling defense and poured in 22 points to pace the Mules to a 41-32 victory in a Lancaster-Lebanon League Tournament quarterfinal contest Saturday night, February 8.
"I think that was the first time I broke 20 points," Dombach said. "It's crazy to think it was my last home game and that happened. It's pretty awesome."
Dombach drained a three-pointer to start the game as Solanco scored the first nine points and never led by fewer than four the rest of the way.
"Jenna knew the significance of this game and she put the team on her shoulder and really said, 'Let's go'," Solanco coach Chad McDowell said. "She did an awesome job. I'm absolutely so happy for her. She did everything we needed her to do, handled the ball, made foul shots. She scored when we needed her to score, hit the big three to start the game. That gave us the momentum right there. We knew if we could start off quickly we would be good and Jenna got the ball up top and hit the three. We knew that was going to be a good start for us. That was awesome. Jenna has worked hard for four years. She's a four-year starter. She's been to this game twice before and we lost both so she really wanted this one. [This class] hadn't won a first round game before so she really wanted it."
The Mules modified their offense and had success from the start.
Following Dombach's game-opening three-pointer, Paige Phillips scored on an acrobatic drive, Jade Eshelman made two free throws, and Dombach added another basket.
After Zara Zerman finally got Northern Lebanon on the board with 2:03 left in the first quarter, Dombach hit two free throws to make it 11-2 entering the second quarter.
"We adjusted our flex offense," said McDowell. "We just pulled it up higher. We knew from scouting them we could get some good looks if we went higher and kept their guards higher. (Lindsay McFeaters) and (Zara) Zerman, we wanted to keep away from the basket because they play a sagging man-to-man. By moving our offense up that allowed us to create more space on the baseline for us to get better looks and curls and things like that. So we made a slight adjustment Friday at practice after we realized who we were playing. We looked at the film and saw that was a weakness of theirs that we could exploit, hopefully early. Plus they go under the screens so that allowed our shooters to pop up top which Jenna did to open up the game."
The players bought into the updated offense. "Coach had us running a higher offense so it allowed us to curl more because they sag a lot," said Dombach. "So it brought their defense up. I give him credit for that. That helped our team out. We just ran it to perfection pretty much. We ran some good curls, good cuts, good screens for each other which got each other open."
The Vikings scored the first five points of the second quarter to narrow the gap to 11-7, the closest the visitors would get.
Solanco led by as many as 13 points in the period. Consecutive three-pointers by Ilynd Rapant and Dombach padded the cushion to 24-11 with 1:02 left in the half before Zerman responded with a three-pointer to make it a 10-point game at the break.
Solanco scored more points in the first half of the L-L quarterfinals than it did in the entire game during the regular season meeting between the two schools – a 35-19 Vikings victory.
"It didn't help that we didn't have Paige and we weren't mentally there," Dombach said. "[Saturday night] we just came out ready to attack them on the offensive end. We were ready. We weren't scared. We were timid last game...Last game, number 15 (Emily Hauck) was up on me the whole time, but I still scored that game so I knew coming in I was going to score but having a team that was setting screens and getting me open helped a lot."
Said McDowell: "Being on our home court helps. "We didn't have to make the hour and 45-minute trip to Northern Lebanon on a Friday night before Christmas. But our defense has gotten better since then. We played pretty good defense up there. We held them to 35. We couldn't score up there. We struggled to score, similar to what they did down here. Part of that is the travel. You travel that far on a bus then you've got to get off and try to play a game. It's difficult. We really focused on taking advantage of the home court. We worked hard to get that home court advantage and going out and playing on our home court with our fans and the support from our community was absolutely awesome. And these girls thrived on that the whole game."
Hampered by a bit of foul trouble in the first half, Solanco committed just one team foul in the third quarter and took a 30-21 edge into the fourth quarter.
Northern Lebanon sliced the deficit down to five on four separate occasions. After a Zerman three-pointer trimmed the margin to 31-26 with 3:58 to go, Dombach made two free throws. Dombach was 8 for 8 from the charity stripe over the final 3:30 of the game.
Leading 33-28, Eshelman hit a jumper with with 2:32 to play. The Mules' junior center finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Northern Lebanon got within five twice more but Dombach answered both times with a pair of free throws, the final two supplying Solanco a 39-32 bulge with 41.9 seconds remaining. Dombach connected on two more free throws to account for the final score.
Northern Lebanon, whose only two regular season losses came at the hands of Section Four champion Lancaster Catholic, had defeated Warwick in a tournament play-in game two days earlier.
In addition to generating more offense, the Mules' other main objective was simple – containing Zerman, the Vikings' senior standout.
Using Nikki Trout and Alana Yoder to guard Zerman in Solanco's signature box-and-one defense, the Mules held Zerman to 17 points and kept her from taking over.
"We faced some really good players this year and she's the most complete player," said McDowell. "We have it on our scouting report: 'complete player'. She's a great kid, comes from a great basketball family. I've said all year long she's the best guard in the league. I would vote for her for MVP of the league. We knew we had to limit her. We knew she was going to score. We just had to limit how much she scored. Nikki and Alana did an outstanding job on her. We had a couple little lapses where she got some step-backs and hit some deep threes. But when you're making deep threes we're going to shake your hand and say good game to you afterwards. Nikki and Alana really stepped up again. They have been our catalysts anytime we've had to go with a box-and-one and shut down the other team's leading scorer and they did it again."
Added Dombach: "We knew we had to be in help (defense) so every time Zerman had the ball we kind of sagged in. Even though there were shooters on the outside, we had to bust our butts to get there. We just had to be in help defense all the time."
In the L-L semifinals, Solanco (14-9) will play Pequea Valley at Conestoga Valley Tuesday, February 11 at 6 p.m.
The Mules earned the ninth seed in the district tournament and will travel to eighth-seeded Berks Catholic for a first round game Tuesday, February 18 at 7 p.m.
Warwick 28, Solanco 24
The visiting Mules dropped their regular season finale Tuesday, February 4.
"This was a very competitive game where both teams played really solid defense," Solanco coach Chad McDowell said via email. "We used our signature box and one on one of the league’s leading scorer (Lauren Pyle, averaging 15 points per game). This caused Warwick to force some shots. Nikki Trout did an outstanding job limiting Pyle to just five points for the game. Nikki defense this season has been outstanding and has helped keep us in some close games. Warwick played a sagging man-to-man and we struggled getting any kind of dribble penetration. Neither team really got into any offensive flow. This was a game where we also struggled at the foul line, which has not been typical of our team this season. We lost focus and they just would not go in. It happens. We make a few more free throws and the end result is much different. With Warwick's sagging man-to-man defense we were unable to get any kind of dribble penetration so it was a struggle to get any kick outs for shots from the perimeter. Jenna (Dombach) tried to attack the basket, but seem to always run into two or three defenders. Paige (Phillips) was tagged with some early foul trouble and she never really got into the flow of the game. Jade (Eshelman) and Ilynd (Rapant) got some good scoring looks in the paint and Nikki was able to find a way on reversal passes to get to the rim for some layups. Offensively this was the first game this season we did not convert a three-point shot. It just shows what a strange shooting night we had. This game was a learning experience and helped us to refocus at practice the rest of this week."
Trout collected seven points and three assists. Eshelman added six points and 11 boards.
Rapant recorded six points and six rebounds. Alana Yoder posted two points and three rebounds. Arianna Seiberlich supplied two points and Dombach had one point and four assists.
Solanco won the JV game 27-13 to finish the season with a 17-3 record.
Seiberlich led the way with seven points and Meg Bailey chipped in six. Hannah Wood and Kendal Janssen each contributed five.