The Mt. Lebanon girls basketball team is headed back to the PIAA championship game.
That comes as no surprise -- it will be the fourth consecutive year the Blue Devils will be playing for a state title.
The surprise is that this time Mt. Lebanon heads to Penn State as the WPIAL runner-up.
Unlike the past two seasons, Mt. Lebanon did not win the WPIAL championship.
They were stunned by Shaler Area 19 days ago in the WPIAL title game.
Since then coach Dori Oldaker has noticed a different attitude with her team.
"They're hungrier this year ... very, very hungry," Oldaker said.
While their appetite for a championship might be different, their appetite for a pregame meal remains the same.
"When we travel long distance for playoff games we always go to Hoss's," Oldaker said.
"Four years straight, we've always hit Hoss's. This year I asked the kids if they wanted to change it and go somewhere else. They said 'Absolutely not -- this has to stay the same.'"
Whether Mt. Lebanon was heading to Chambersburg High School or Shippensburg University, the team bus would always stop at Hoss's Steak & Sea House in Bedford.
"We are very superstitious," Oldaker said. "We do the same thing every trip."
That includes winning.
The Blue Devils have won 14 consecutive PIAA playoff games, including two state championships.
To extend that streak to 15 and win a third-consecutive PIAA title, the Blue Devils will have to beat Archbishop Carroll of Philadelphia again. They knocked them off, 54-52 in overtime, back on Jan. 15 at Philadelphia University.
Regardless of the outcome, the game will mark the final game for senior starters Madison Cable and Anna Kestler. The two have been the senior leaders on the team and standout players, but it has been far from a two-person show.
Cable had 13 points in Mt. Lebanon's 62-35 PIAA semifinal win over Lower Merion, but she was only the third leading scorer. Junior guards Kelly Johnson and Emma Pellicano each scored 16. Junior guard Liz Tommasi held Lower Merion star point guard Sheba Hall to two points through the first three quarters and seven points in the game.
Sophomore forward Jordan Holmes finished with five blocks. Freshman forward Christine Ehland scored six points off the bench.
"It is not about individuals -- it is about a team," Oldaker said.
"What is really nice is that our seniors had gone through this process four years straight. They know the routine and know how to focus. We told them before we left Mt. Lebanon (before the PIAA semifinals): 'You have to teach the younger players what to do.'"
After the shocking loss in the WPIAL championship game, the Blue Devils insisted they were only looking ahead to the next game, although avenging the loss to Shaler was in the back of their minds. They got a shot at redemption after blowing out Allderdice and Penn-Trafford to reach the PIAA quarterfinals where Shaler awaited.
After a 41-35 loss at the Palumbo Center, the Blue Devils defeated Shaler, 65-39, 13 days later in the PIAA quarterfinals.
"We couldn't wait to play them again," Oldaker said.
"Prior to the game [against Shaler], there was nothing to say to the team. They knew we needed to get something that was taken away from us."
• Who: Mt. Lebanon (24-6) vs. Archbishop Carroll (24-5).
• What: PIAA Class AAAA title game.
• When: 6 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.
• TV: PCN.