JOHNSTOWN - Respect might not be complete consolation for finishing as district runner-up.
But it will have to do.
The Tussey Mountain High School girls basketball team fought back from a 12-point deficit with less than a minute to play in the third quarter to get within a point of top-seeded Conemaugh Township in the waning moments of the District 5 Class AA girls basketball tournament finals.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Tussey Mountain’s Morgan Lemin (left), Morgan Gates (center) and Caitlin Foster have trouble hiding their emotions after coming up short Friday.
A storybook comeback wasn't in the cards for the Lady Titans, though. Township dodged Tussey's bullets and Morgan Lemin's 22-point outburst to emerge with a 65-57 win and the gold medals on Friday at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown Sports Center.
Afterward, the wild emotions showed on Lemin's freckled face. Her eyes were obviously wet from the tears of disappointment, but she soon was able to muster a big smile at the moral victory and the realization that her Lady Titans still had games to play. Tussey (18-6) will meet the seventh-place team from the WPIAL in a play-in game on the road Tuesday for the right to advance to the main bracket of the PIAA tournament.
"We didn't give up until the end,'' Lemin said. "I think this will give us a boost to want to do better in states.''
It was somewhat remarkable that Tussey's 5-foot-7 senior forward could keep her eye on the bigger picture considering how close the Lady Titans came to a comeback every bit as remarkable, only to come up short.
Olivia Claycomb's turnaround jumper in the post had gotten a Township lead that was once 49-37 down to 58-57 with 2:34 to go.
However, the one play that Tussey needed to totally turn the tide eluded it. The soft touch of Lemin, so key in putting the Lady Titans in position to go ahead, couldn't sink two free throws with Tussey down by a point at the 2:03 mark, and an attempt to feed Lemin in the post where she so hurt the Lady Indians all night was stolen a few seconds later.
With 46.8 seconds left, Lemin was called for an intentional foul as she ran to try to foul Township's Katie Reckner, giving the Lady Indians (23-2) two shots and the ball with a four-point lead. Then, Conemaugh Township's Lyndy Baer missed the front end of a one-and-one only to have Tussey whistled for a lane violation - Baer made both free throws after the reprieve.
"We couldn't get over the hump. We couldn't get that one shot to fall to get us over the hump,'' Tussey coach Todd Gates said. "We knew it was going to take a big effort to win the game. We gave it our all. The girls played hard and played well. We just needed a couple of more shots to fall.''
A Reckner put-back - a familiar scene as the Lady Indians pulled down 16 offensive rebounds and Reckner recorded the 1,000th rebound of her career in the first half - off Kayla Luprek's missed jumper was Township's only field goal in the last two minutes. But the top seeds made 5-of-6 free throws to ice it.
"I was definitely a little nervous, but we all believe in each other, and we came together,'' said Reckner, who finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, seven offensive.
After Township built its 12-point advantage, Tussey went on a 6-0 run to end the third quarter, capped by one of Lemin's patented hook shots.
"It's something we work on at practice every day. I just started working on it this year. I should have started earlier - I might have my thousand points by now,'' Lemin said with a laugh.
Coming off the bench, Claycomb and Morgan Lynn also played well inside to keep Tussey in it. They teamed for 15 points, 11 coming from Claycomb on an array of turnaround jump shots.
"We thought coming in that all three of our Morgans [including Morgan Gates] and Olivia had to have big games,'' Todd Gates said. "Our bench is deeper than theirs, and we felt we could keep a little big fresher legs. Our JVs can play. We even made a run at one point with them in there.''
The game was tight most of the first half until Baer's 3-pointer started a 7-0 run late in the second quarter that allowed Township to go ahead by six at halftime. Kelsey Smith nailed two treys in the third quarter, and Carly Baer also made one from behind the arc to push the Lady Indians' lead to 12.
Lyndy Baer ended up with 13 points, and Smith had 11.
"The rebounding and getting it back out really worked out, and we were just hitting,'' said first-year CT coach Stacey Hazlett, whose team hit six 3-pointers to Tussey's one.
Lemin, though, felt her team could build off Friday's near-miss.
"We gave it all we've got,'' Lemin said, "and we're going to make a big run in states, so everybody should watch out.''
TUSSEY MOUNTAIN (57): Foster 2 0-0 4, Runk 1 2-2 4, Abbott-Watkins 4 1-2 10, Gates 1 0-0 2, Lemin 11 0-2 22, Claycomb 5 1-1 11, Rupert 0 0-0 0, Kendrick 0 0-0 0, Lynn 2 0-0 4, Coffman 0 0-0 0, Reed 0 0-0 0. Totals - 26 4-7 57.
CONEMAUGH TOWNSHIP (65): L. Baer 4 3-5 13, Boyer 3 2-2 8, C. Baer 2 0-0 5, Reckner 7 5-6 19, Smith 4 0-0 11, Luprek 4 1-2 9. Totals - 24 11-15 65.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Tussey Mountain12 12 19 14-57
Conemaugh Township13 17 19 16-65
3-point goals: Tussey Mountain 1 (Abbott-Watkins); Conemaugh Township 6 (Smith 3, L. Baer 2, C. Baer).
Records: Tussey Mountain (18-6); Conemaugh Township (23-2).
Officials: Ted Oppegard, Craig Elbin, Justin Fischer.