JOHNSTOWN -Bellwood-Antis rode its sophomores to a big halftime lead in its District 6 Class AA semifinal game against Westmont Hilltop Wednesday, but it was the Lady Blue Devils' lone starting senior that helped B-A hang on late.
Katy Leamer scored a game-high 25 points and pulled in 12 rebounds to lift Bellwood to a 56-53 win at the Richland High School Sports Center. The win means second-seeded Bellwood-Antis (24-1) will play in the District 6-AA title game Saturday against fourth-seeded Blairsville at 5:30 p.m. in DeGol Arena.
"We got pretty nervous at the end there, but Coach [Jim] Swaney said nerves are only for those who aren't prepared, and we were definitely prepared," Leamer said. "We're so excited to be playing in the district title game. We all love each other, and we're going to play really well."
Leamer got plenty of help in the first half as the Lady Blue Devils built a 13-point lead.
Erin Rodgers made a free throw with 1:21 to play in the half to bring Westmont within four points of Bellwood, but sophomore Ana Hollen started a 9-0 run in the final minute with a layup and a four-point play. Fellow sophomore Jacqueline Finn completed the spurt with a trey at the buzzer.
"[That run] killed us," Westmont Hilltop coach Jodi Hillegass said. "That's what it was that hurt us. Paige [Lamberson] was in foul trouble, and they got that momentum going into the half. We could never get back over the hump."
The Lady Hilltoppers may never have taken the lead again, but they sure threatened several times.
Leamer opened the second half with a three-point play to extend the lead to 16, but Westmont followed with a 10-1 run that pulled the Lady Hilltoppers within seven.
With its momentum fading, Bellwood turned to Leamer. The 5-foot-9 senior, who has the skills to play both guard and forward, posted up for a pair of baskets. After Leamer made one of two from the line with 15.8 seconds left in the third quarter, Hollen picked off a pass and made a layup to put B-A ahead, 44-35, entering the final quarter.
"Not everything was pretty, but when push came to shove, we showed a lot of character," Swaney said. "We showed a lot of heart to hold them off."
The Lady Hilltoppers were far from finished. Rachel Roper scored a pair of baskets during a 6-0 Westmont run to open the fourth. Roper finished with a career-high 18 points and 15 rebounds.
Leamer and Roper traded baskets to keep the margin at three until Leamer connected on her only 3-pointer of the night to extend the lead back to six with four minutes to play.
Leamer scored 17 of Bellwood's 23 second-half points.
"She's our senior leader," Swaney said regarding Leamer. "She's done that against most people. It's not an accident when you score 19 points a game like she does. She's a tough matchup, because she can get off her feet and shoot pretty well."
Despite Leamer's heroics, Westmont pulled within two when Rodgers completed a three-point play with 2:05 left. Rodgers finished with a team-high 19 points.
The Lady Blue Devils turned to their star senior one more time, and she connected on a pair of free throws to make it a two possession game with 1:54 left. Rodgers could have pulled Westmont back within two, but missed a pair of free throws. Westmont shot just 7-of-20 from the line on the night.
"It's not that we don't practice foul shots," Hillegass said. "That hurt. I don't know if it was nerves or being tired, but there's no excuse."
Bellwood-Antis led by five with 24.9 seconds left, but Rodgers gave the Lady Hilltoppers hope by nailing a 3-pointer. Hollen, who finished with 15 points, made one of two free throws with 11.8 left, and Rodgers missed two 3-point attempts in Westmont's final possession.
"We got within two and got the shots we wanted," Hillegass said. "If the game was a minute longer, I think we would have been able to pull it out."
Instead it will be the Lady Blue Devils playing in their first district title game under Swaney in just his third year with the school. Bellwood bowed out in the first round in each of Swaney's first two years.
"It was a team effort, a great effort," Swaney said. "It's everything for us to be going to the title game. It's everything you work for. We knew we had a lot of talent, but this means everything to us.
"However, we didn't write down 'make the district title game' on the board at the beginning of the year. We want to win, and that's the way we'll approach it."
WESTMONT HILLTOP (53): Roper 8 2-6 18, Lamberson 2 0-0 5, Miller 2 0-0 4, Flick 1 0-4 2, Rodgers 7 3-6 19, Moyer 1 0-0 3, Zolnosky 0 0-0 0, Fisher 0 2-4 2, Sheehan 0 0-0 0. Totals - 21 7-20 53.
BELLWOOD-ANTIS (56): Hollen 5 4-8 15, Ka. Leamer 8 8-11 25, Swogger 1 6-8 8, Ke. Leamer 1 0-0 3, Damiano 0 0-0 0, Mercer 1 0-0 2, Finn 1 0-0 3. Totals - 17 18-27 56.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Westmont Hilltop8 12 15 18 - 53
Bellwood-Antis11 22 11 12 - 56
3-point goals: Westmont Hilltop 4 (Lamberson, Rodgers 2, Moyer); Bellwood-Antis 4 (Hollen, Finn, Ke. Leamer, Ka. Leamer).
Records: Westmont Hilltop (20-5); Bellwood-Antis (24-1).
Officials: Joe Stephan, Tom Cunningham, Bill Zamboni.