JOHNSTOWN - The Homer-Center girls basketball team played stifling defense Tuesday night in a 51-36 win over Portage in the District 6 Class A semifinals at Richland High School.
The Lady Wildcats advanced to the championship game for the second straight year, and the Lady Mustangs will play Friday night in a consolation game with a chance to earn a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
Homer-Center - led by senior guard Katelyn Skinner's 21 points - held a double-digit lead for most of the game and never trailed or tied after the opening tip.
"We were still hanging in there," Portage coach Lance Hudak said. "Then, they get a couple [of 3-pointers] and you get down 15."
Homer-Center overcame a sloppy first-half shooting effort but took advantage of every momentum swing the game had to offer.
"It's important to get the momentum on your side and try and keep it," Homer-Center coach Thomas Lasher said. "I think that's a big part of winning basketball. It was important, and we did it. They made a nice comeback in the second half, and good thing we did do it."
With Homer-Center's lead cut to 16-9 after a Portage 3-pointer that gave the Mustangs (16-8) some life, the Wildcats (21-3) quickly answered.
Back-to-back treys by Breanna Rossi (11 points) and Skinner pulled Homer-Center ahead. The Wildcats scored 10 of the half's final 12 points.
Homer-Center junior guard Maggie McLoughlin scored 11 points, including a running jump shot at the first-half buzzer to set the 26-11 midway score.
"Give Portage credit," Lasher said. "They played some good defense. Don't take anything away from them on that part. They played pretty good defense the whole game, and they're a good quality team.''
Portage was determined to make it a game, and the Mustangs played a spirited third quarter, outscoring the Wildcats, 10-7, in the frame.
The effort carried over to the start of the fourth with sophomore standout Olivia McCabe scoring the final quarter's first four points.
"Olivia's a talented kid," Hudak said. "In the first half, being a sophomore, she wasn't confident to use her whole repertoire. We talked to her at the half, and she came out and played a great second half. We definitely gained some confidence in that second half."
The 6-foot-1 forward led Portage with 20 points - including a 6-for-6 effort from the foul line.
"We were starting to look inside and get something going," Hudak said. "And Olivia started converting in the second half. She played well. It was a good second half that gave us good confidence going into the consolation game on Friday night."
Ultimately, Portage could not overcome a poor first-half shooting effort that led to the game-long deficit.
Sophomore point guard Emily Chobany added eight points for Portage.
"There are a lot of nerves out there with the atmosphere," Hudak said. "When you miss those first couple it hurts the confidence a little. Then they're a little less apt to put it up and they're a little less apt to see a lane and take it, and they end up a little short on everything. I think that's what happened in the first half."
Portage will face WestPAC North Division foe Conemaugh Valley in Friday's consolation game. The teams split two games in the regular season.
Homer-Center meets Bishop Guilfoyle in Saturday's 2 p.m. District 6-A championship game at St. Francis?University in Loretto. It is a rematch of last year's championship game won by BG.
PORTAGE (36): O. McCabe 7 6-6 20, Chobany 1 6-8 8, Dividock 1 0-0 3, Adams 1 0-2 2, E. McCabe 0 0-2 0, Zatek 0 0-0 0, Madigan 1 0-0 2, Ramus 0 0-0 0, Jubina 0 1-2 1. Totals 11 13-19 36.
HOMER-CENTER (51): Skinner 7 4-4 21, McLoughlin 4 2-2 11, Horel 3 0-0 6, Rossi 4 0-0 11, Townley 1 0-0 2, Galasso 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 6-6 51.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Portage2 9 10 15 - 36
Homer-Center11 15 7 18 - 51
3-point field goals: Portage 1 (Dividock); Homer-Center 7 (Skinner 3, Rossi 3, McLoughlin).
Records: Homer-Center (21-3); Portage (16-8).
Officials: Tom Fontaine, Clark Adelman, Mike Brown.