JOHNSTOWN - For the third time this season, the Portage girls basketball team played Conemaugh Valley.
The WestPAC teams split two regular-season contests, with each team getting one close win.
On Friday at Richland High School's Sportscenter they played the rubber match, with a trip to the PIAA Class A interdistricts on the line.
What else could high school basketball fans ask for?
Overtime, too? Sure.
Conemaugh Valley outscored Portage, 7-2, in the extra frame to earn a 44-39 victory.
"It's exciting," Conemaugh Valley coach Teri Cruse said. "This will be the third year in a row going to the state playoffs."
The game was tied seven times after the opening tip - including 21-21 at halftime - and neither team seemed poised to pull way ahead.
"Sometimes [familiarity] works against you one game and you're done," Cruse said. "Both games we played them were close games and they were exciting games, and we figured this one was going to be that way too. And it was."
The Blue Jays were led by senior guard Darla Pollino's 14 points -including four 3-pointers - and Jamie Cekada's 10 points, five assists and six rebounds.
Portage 6-foot-1 sophomore forward Olivia McCabe led all scorers with 18 points. She also grabbed 12 rebounds, blocked nine shots and had four steals.
Sophomore point guard Emily Chobany chipped in 14 points for the Mustangs. Both girls were 8-for-10 from the free throw line.
The Blue Jays overcame a sloppy start marred by turnovers and missed shots to earn an 8-5 first frame lead.
A scary collision between Portage's Candice Ramus and Courtney Jubina resulted in a cut above the eye of Jubina at 1:21 of the first quarter. She returned to the bench with a butterfly bandage, an ice pack and a nearly closed left eye.
She returned to the game with 3:11 left in the game, just in time to help the Mustangs tie the contest at 37 on a Sheila Adams layup with 2:25 left, the last points of regulation.
Leading 39-37 in overtime, Pollino made the first half of a 1-and-1 but missed the second, setting up a final chance for Portage to tie. The Mustangs trailed by three points with 20.3 seconds left.
The baseline shot from behind the arc sailed over the rim, and with it went Portage's chance to advance.
"You try that hard, you work that hard and put that kind of effort into anything you do in life you're going to be successful," Portage coach Lance Hudak said. "We came out on the short end [Friday] night, but sometimes in a loss, you gain. You gain a lot more than you expected. The girls are going to get a lot out of this."
The game was full of momentum swings going both ways.
"Where we've come from as a program winning three basketball games two years ago, we really had to earn everything we got," Hudak said. "We had to work, and we had to earn respect. These nine girls are girls with just unbelievable heart and desire. On paper, the future looks bright."
PORTAGE (39): O.McCabe 5 8-10 18, Chobany 3 8-10 14, Dividock 1 0-0 3, Adams 2 0-0 4, E.McCabe 0 0-0 0, Madigan 0 0-2 0, Ramus 0 0-0 0, Jubina 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 16-22 39.
CONEMAUGH VALLEY (44): Cekada 2 4-4 10, Gruss 2 0-0 5, Pollino 4 2-3 14, McCray 2 0-1 4, Menett 3 0-0 6, McCallay 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Hody 2 0-0 5, Stiffler 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 6-8 44.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Portage5 16 8 8 2 - 39
Conemaugh Valley8 13 12 4 7 - 44
3-point field goals: Portage 1 (Dividock); Conemaugh Valley 8 (Pollino 4, Cekada 2, Gruss, Hody).
Records: Portage (16-9); Conemaugh Valley (18-7).
Officials: Tona Williams, Steve Schaff, Justin Fraker.