Three district titles are in reach
This is familiar territory.
Late February and the area has four teams vying for three District 4 titles, at least one team in each class.
We saw the same situation last year, and had a sweep of the district plaques. But are the pieces in place to duplicate that feat?
The short answer is yes.
A closer look reveals that it won't be as easy for all three of last year's champs - Lourdes in Class A, Mount Carmel in Class AA and Shamokin in Class AAA - as it was a year ago.
The Red Raiders' closest game in the 2012 postseason was 17 points, and not that a 42-point win over Galeton last week points to an increase in competition as Lourdes tries for its fifth-straight title but tonight's opponent - Benton - is not Galeton.
What you have to like about Lourdes is that it has experience on its side. Benton has made the playoffs once in the last three years, and didn't fare well.
The Tigers lost by two last year to Cowanesque Valley in their first game, and didn't make the postseason in 2010 or 2011.
This year, Benton is considerably better with wins over Shamokin, twice against Muncy and an overtime loss to Danville in the Heartland Conference tournament championship game.
And yes, Benton, is that improved because of Justine Seely, who poses considerable matchup problems for Lourdes. At 6-feet tall, Seely towers against everyone on the Red Raiders' team. Shamokin held her to one point in the first quarter in their HAC-tournament game, but have size down low. Lourdes is going to have to hope it can put enough pressure on Benton's guards before Seely ever touches the ball.
If Lourdes should win, a Sayre or Northeast Bradford hurdle would be next in their way.
If Lourdes loses tonight and battles back to win the third place game, it would open the PIAA playoffs against, most likely, Steel-Hi. A second place finish would mean an opening-round game with Tri-Valley, while a fifth-title would set the Red Raiders in a very favorable side of the bracket where they wouldn't face either aforementioned powerhouse until the state semis. Just in case a five-peat wasn't enough motivation.
Speaking of motivation. ...Shamokin is talented enough to win a second consecutive District 4 title, but which Indians team will show up?
There's the Shamokin squad that held Milton to eight first-half points Friday, and the Indians' team that nearly allowed a Panthers' rally to come to maturation in the fourth quarter.
It's not too late for the Indians to get in gear. Actually, this would be the perfect time for Kelsey Yacko and Olivia Bonshock to realize how to be dominant for a whole game at the same time. If they figure that out, watch out District 4.
The winner out of D-4 gets the District 2 third-place team, and the loser plays the D-2 champ in the first round of states.
In Class AA, Mount Carmel and Southern Columbia seem to be on a collision course for the district title.
There is a little issue of Muncy for Mount Carmel, and what we think is a big issue of Maria Kelleher and Lewisburg for the Tigers, but if things play out with a pro-area slant, it could be a great final.
For Mount Carmel, seeking its third-straight title, Southern has to be a little scary after the two teams split their regular season series. A neutral floor, like Shamokin, would be a terrific venue to see two teams who really like to run and get after it.
The winner in the final gets the third team out of District 2, and the loser gets matched with the District 11, odds are on a red hot Pine Grove, for the loser. The third place team out of District 4 gets the District 2 champ.
A title is great, but winning a district championship this year has much bigger rewards.