First-quarter jitters would have made sense for the Kellenberg girls basketball team. This was unfamiliar territory. The Firebirds, making their first CHSAA state semifinal appearance since 2009, took a few minutes to get going, but once they did, there was no stopping them.
Kellenberg topped Kennedy Catholic, 46-39, Friday night at St. John's Prep in Astoria and will face Buffalo Cardinal O'Hara in the CHSAA Class A state title game at 5 p.m. Saturday at Holy Trinity. Candace Belvedere (14 points) led the Firebirds.
Kaitlyn Stackpole's three-pointer broke a scoreless tie with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.
"Our offense was stagnant," Stackpole, who finished with 12 points, said. "We knew we needed to move around, pass the ball, and cut like we usually do. When we just play basketball, that's the best way to score."
The second quarter was a lot more fluid, with Kellenberg heading to the locker room with an 18-16 lead.
Aside from a momentary one-point deficit, Kellenberg remained in control throughout the third. Brenna Dennelly and Stackpole knocked down back-to- back three pointers, the second with 1:35 left in the quarter, to give Kellenberg a five-point lead.
After a Kennedy Catholic basket, Belvedere scored to push the advantage to 32-27. Moments later, she stole a pass and fed a strike to Stackpole, whose basket increased the Firebirds lead to 34-27 with one minute remaining in the third.
"We kept stealing the ball and pushing it," Stackpole said. "It was motivation for everyone. That was a turning point to the game."
Lindsey Ehrhardt's basket gave Kellenberg a 10-point lead with five minutes left in the game. Moments later, she hit two free throws to put the lead at 12.
But state title chances almost never come easily. Kellenberg had to weather one final Kennedy Catholic flurry. Two three-pointers and a pair of three throws cut the lead to 42-39 with 1:40 left.
But as it had throughout the game, Kellenberg went back to the always reliable Belvedere, who used a spin move in the key to knock down an open layup and quell Kennedy Catholic's final stand.
"That's my go-to move," Belvedere said.
And it worked like a charm.