Natalie Kucowski couldn't help but smile.

The St. Basil senior was warming up at La Salle College High School, getting ready to play in her first Catholic Academies championship game since her freshman year.

The 6-foot-4 center was doing her usual routine - layups, mid-range shooting, and some from beyond the arc - when she couldn't block it out any longer.

The Panthers' fan section was standing up, clad in all white, and screaming.

The team had been hyping the game at school - Kucowski knew her classmates were coming - so the smile stayed for a moment.

Then it was back to warm-ups.

In front of a raucous crowd, Kucowski scored 15 points and added eight rebounds, four blocks, and three steals as St. Basil defeated Villa Maria, 42-21.

"Awesome. This is what you work for all year and to end my last Academy league game like that is amazing," said Kucowski, a Lafayette recruit. "For this to be our senior year and to go undefeated in the league - there's nothing like it."

The Hurricanes (13-9) hung with the Panthers (24-0) in the first half, as the score at the break was an 18-13 St. Basil advantage.

But as the Panthers ran out from the locker room, Kucowski saw and heard the fans again. Like the previous time, a smile crossed her face.

"The noise, the school spirit, it's like nothing else," she said.

St. Basil surged in the third, getting huge threes from Casey Remolde and Elizabeth Deal. Remolde's trey put Basil up 10 points.

"When I hit that shot, it felt so great to hear everyone yelling," Remolde said. "I knew it was a big shot in the game and it really felt like our lead was sealed then. I felt really confident."

With 18.4 seconds remaining, all five starters were subbed out. The student section roared. Coach Terry Mancini hugged his players, and then with eight ticks left, the countdown started.

Kucowski and her squad stormed the court, as all four seniors mobbed one another.

Villa Maria 4 9 5 3 - 21

St. Basil 8 10 14 10 - 42

VM: Abby Walheim 7, Marissa Picinich 5, Julia Samar 4, Emily Gillin 3, Erin DiDonato 2.

SB: Natalie Kucowski 15, Casey Remolde 11, Elizabeth Deal 5, Julianna Gura 4, Kaitlin Dougherty 4, Cheryl Remolde 3.

@ka_harman