EBENSBURG - The Central girls basketball team had high hopes entering the District 6 Class AA playoffs.
But when leading scorer Lindsey Smith left the game late in the third quarter with an injury, the seventh-seeded Lady Dragons had to find points elsewhere.
Richland, however, took advantage and turned up the defensive pressure en route to a 46-38 first-round win Tuesday night at Central Cambria High School.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Central’s Kathryn Blattenberger walks off the court dejected after Tuesday’s loss.
"She's our leading scorer. We look to get the ball into her," Central coach Shelley McCune said of Smith, who averaged 19 points per game this season. "She finishes tough for us. She's a great defensive rebounder, a great offensive rebounder. She's a big part of our team."
With 1:31 left in the third quarter, Smith was going for a rebound on the defensive end when her legs tangled with a Richland player. She laid on the floor grabbing her right knee and had to be helped off with what McCune called "a likely ACL tear."
She left the game with 11 points.
"We were just trying to keep our kids motivated and not get down on ourselves," McCune said. "It becomes tough. We had some kids that wanted to step up and were trying to get us the win. We have other big scorers outside of Lindsey."
"That changed the momentum of the game," Richland coach Ralph McGinnis said. "It's a shame that happened. That's a big time player that didn't finish the game."
Immediately after Smith left the game, the 10th-seeded Lady Rams (17-6) cranked up the defensive pressure.
The Lady Dragons (15-8) were just 1-for-11 in the third quarter and improved by four shots in the fourth. They were 16-for-45 for the game.
"They did turn up the defense, especially at the end," McCune said. "They pressured our guards and it was really hard to get an offensive set. They did a real nice job of slowing the game down.
"We usually look to run. We didn't get to run as much as we like to. They did a real good job of controlling the tempo of the game."
After Central put Richland in a 1-and-1 situation, the Lady Rams slowed the game even more, took time off the clock with drawn-out possessions and converted 12-of-19 shots from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. They were 17-for-27 from the stripe on the night.
"We wanted to attack and be patient, make them come out and foul us and make our free throws," McGinnis said. "I wish we would have made a couple more earlier in the fourth quarter, but it paid off."
Central opened the game strong offensively, making 10 of its 23 first-half attempts from the floor for a 22-17 halftime lead.
"I didn't realize they were that quick," McGinnis said. "I think that took us off guard in that first half. We were just standing around, they were driving the gaps, kicking it out. We just couldn't stop the penetration. That's what we discussed at halftime."
Sarabeth Bean had 11 points for the Lady Dragons.
Sarah Pfeil had a game-high 22 points, and Katie Gehlmann added 11 for the Lady Rams, who advance to play second-seeded Bellwood-Antis in the quarterfinals.
"She's been consistent all year long," McGinnis said of Pfeil. "She can take over. She's tough to deal with inside."
RICHLAND (46): Gehlmann 3 4-5 11, Hoover 1 2-4 4, Koshute 1 1-2 3, Pfeil 9 4-8 22, Holtzman 0 6-8 6, Dona 0 0-0 0, Franze 0 0-0 0. Totals 14-39 17-27 46.
CENTRAL (38): Bean 5 0-0 11, Blattenberger 0 0-0 0, L. Smith 4 3-4 11, McKnight 1 0-0 2, A. Smith 3 0-0 6, McGraw 3 2-2 8. Totals 16-45 5-6 38.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Richland9 8 13 16 - 46
Central12 10 6 10 - 38
3-point goals: Richland 1-9 (Gehlmann), Central 1-8 (Bean).
Records: Richland (17-6), Central (15-8).