The Mohawk High girls basketball team is going to Hershey.

Hannah McDanel scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Lady Warriors to a 74-58 PIAA Class 3A semifinal-round home win over Forest Hills on Monday night.

“It’s still a surreal type win to be able to win a semifinal game on your home court,” Mohawk coach Mike O’Lare said. “When you win a home game to go to the state championship, that might be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

“You don’t have to get on a bus and play at a neutral site. We couldn’t have dreamed it better.”

Mohawk (19-4) will compete in the program’s first state championship game at 5 p.m. Thursday at Hershey’s GIANT Center against Philadelphia West Catholic (10-4).

The Lady Warriors delivered their usual balance as Nadia Lape added 22 points and Paige Julian chipped in 21.

“I can’t give enough credit to these kids, especially the seniors,” O’Lare said. “Paige, Hannah and Nadia had their best games of their careers, all simultaneously for us.

“They’ve all played well over the years. I don’t think all three played as well as they did tonight at once during their career. To come to the gym ready to play like that with a trip to Hershey on the line was incredible. We needed every bit of it, too.”

Last year, the Lady Warriors had their season cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state quarterfinals. That won’t stop this group from arriving at the GIANT Center to play for the program’s first state championship on Thursday.

While O’Lare’s team was able to enjoy the familiarity of the home gym, the Lady Rangers (20-1) were playing more than two hours from home.

“I wish it would have been played at a neutral site,” Forest Hills coach Carol Cecere said. “That would have been beneficial. Playing a game on a team’s home court in the semifinals of the PIAA playoffs, that shouldn’t have happened. That’s not Mohawk’s fault, though.”

Mohawk held a narrow 15-12 lead after one quarter and pushed the margin to 42-35 at the half.

“I just think the style of the way the game played out, especially in the first half being an up and down game, it blended to our side offensively.

“Both teams were wondering how do we stop each other. That was a fast first half. We all went into the locker room asking how do we stop each other.”

The Lady Rangers came out strong in the third quarter. Forest Hills closed the gap to 42-40 with 5:51 to go in the third quarter when Remingtyn Smith split a pair of foul shots.

“I thought starting fast in the third quarter and getting back in it was a key,” Cecere said. “We missed a couple of foul shots and some shots, though.

“When we didn’t make it, I thought the momentum swung their way. They’re a good team. They’re fast. I thought their speed was a key.”

McDanel and Lape helped the Lady Warriors regain control. McDanel scored five quick points. Lape grabbed the rebound off an errant Lady Rangers shot and went the length of the floor for a layup and a 49-42 lead with 1:52 to go in the third.

Mohawk settled for a 51-44 lead going to the fourth quarter.

“Fouls kind of slowed things down in the third quarter,” O’Lare said. “The game got kind of sloppy. It seemed like a slow third quarter for points.”

The Lady Warriors were 19 of 24 from the foul line, including 12 of 14 in the final frame to lock up the win. Julian was 4 of 4 in the quarter and Lape was 6 of 8.  

“When we did get that separation, we were able to extend it,” O’Lare said. “Free-throw shooting is always dictated on who is shooting them.

“Nadia and Paige are both excellent free-throw shooters. That’s what seniors do. They wanted the ball and they wanted to shoot them. I don’t have to coach that. They had the confidence to step up and shoot them.”

Said Cecere of her team’s comeback effort in the fourth quarter, “When you’re down seven points, we actually started dribble penetrating. We got some looks on the inside. But we were trading baskets at that point. Mohawk uses a simple 2-3 defense. They use their length. They don’t trap. They kept their length along the perimeter.”

Mohawk led 56-49 with just over six minutes remaining before pulling away. With O’Lare’s team attempting 14 fourth-quarter free throws, he had one prevailing thought as the time slowly ticked off.

“Just for the clock to run out,” O’Lare said of his thoughts late in the game. “You just want that horn to go off. I know the kids were feeling the same way.

“You’re just playing to the horn. And trying to get that buzzer to go off.”

When the final buzzer did go off, fans celebrated by tossing Hershey’s Kisses on the court and the players gathered to embrace.

Abby Shoaff scored five points for Mohawk and Jordan Radzyminski added a pair to account for the rest of the team’s points.

Jordyn Smith scored 20 points to lead Forest Hills.

rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com

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Sports Editor

Ron Poniewasz Jr. is the sports editor at the New Castle News. Email him at rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com.

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