EVERETT - Fourth-seeded Northern Bedford showed plenty of everything in Wednesday night's District 5 Class A girls basketball semifinal matchup with top-seeded Southern Fulton.
The Lady Panthers came out of the gates energized with a 13-4 edge in the first quarter, then managed just nine points in the middle quarters before racing back with a furious fourth-quarter finish before succumbing to the Lady Indians, 46-41, at Everett Area High School.
"They [Northern Bedford] played hard - they had a lot of heart," Northern Bedford coach Todd Eckenroad said. "Turnovers killed us, and they [Southern Fulton] just capitalized on them. Give my kids credit, they didn't give up. They played clear until the end. I was pleased with their effort."
Despite the loss, the season doesn't end for NBC (17-7) as the Lady Panthers will meet up with Berlin Brothersvalley at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Pitt-Johnstown in the consolation final for the right to advance to the PIAA state playoffs. Southern Fulton (21-1) will battle Conemaugh Township at 6 p.m. on Saturday at UPJ for the district championship.
"We came out flat. We knew they [NBC] were going to come out jacked up, and we knew how they could shoot," Southern Fulton coach Terry Bard said. "Them jumping out to a nice lead wasn't a surprise. I knew they were capable of doing that. I honestly didn't think we were going to shoot that bad to start [the game]. Our nerves calmed down, and we just stayed with it."
A balanced scoring attack with five players getting into the scorebook spearheaded the Panthers in the first quarter. NBC mixed in a stifling defense with a tenacity on the boards as Briana Beach ripped down eight of Northern's 13 rebounds in the first, while Southern managed just five.
A layup by SF's Kayla Chilcote with 1.9 seconds remaining in the quarter gave the Indians the spark they needed to begin the second quarter fresh.
"We contested a lot of shots at that beginning," Eckenroad said. "I thought Chilcote's bucket there at the end of the first quarter probably was the turning point. It gave them a little bit of momentum, and they fought back."
Cierra Cottle's jumper to start the second gave NBC its largest lead of the game at 15-4. However, Southern Fulton showed its own scoring balance in reeling off a 12-2 run over the final 7:11 of the quarter to close within one (17-16) at the break.
Kayla Wertz drilled a 3-pointer at 6:53 of the third to give the Lady Indians a lead (19-17) they did not relinquish. Four straight turnovers by NBC spelled trouble as Ashley Roman scored six straight points to extend the SF lead to 25-17 at nearly the midway point.
"Their point guard pushed the ball up and ahead. They ran the floor really well. We just didn't get back in time, and they capitalized on it," Eckenroad said. "They started working down into the posts, and they got three easy [shots] off of our turnovers. They got [nine] points there real quick, and that was the downside of it."
Four more turnovers in the quarter for NBC and only two for Southern allowed SF to increase its lead to 36-22 heading into the final quarter.
"Defensively, I think that's what the turning point was. We buckled down on defense. We started chipping away at the lead and were able to take control that way," Bard said. "Our strength is defense. In these cases where we start out cold, our defense can back us up - get a couple of layups, get some confidence. That's what we try to do."
A basket by Taelor Morton lifted the Indians to their largest lead of the game (39-22) with 6:36 left in the contest.
Just when Southern Fulton seemed to relax and lay off a little bit, Northern Bedford made them pay as Alyssa Smith keyed an 18-5 run with eight straight points, including two treys that cut the SF lead down to just four (44-40) with 50.3 left.
Macey Hollenshead canned two free throws to close out the Southern scoring, while Leah Hershberger hit the front end of a one-and-one with 8 ticks left to set the final.
The Northern Bedford defense did a good job stopping the junior, Hollenshead - a 1,000-point scorer - by holding her to just two field goals and 11 total points. Morton added 11 to tie for the team lead.
Smith knocked in a game-high 12 points as the only Lady Panther in double figures, while Beach finished with 14 rebounds.
Southern Fulton managed a 35-33 edge in rebounding and a 20-13 advantage in turnovers.
NORTHERN BEDFORD (41): Beach 2 0-2 4, Cottle 3 0-0 8, Hershberger 2 2-5 6, Clark 0 0-0 0, Smith 5 0-1 12, Drenning 1 5-6 7, Gochnour 2 0-0 4, Leidy 0 0-0 0, Cronrath 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 7-14 41.
SOUTHERN FULTON (46): Roman 5 3-4 13, Chilcote 3 0-3 6, Wertz 1 0-0 3, T. Morton 4 1-2 11, Hollenshead 2 7-10 11, Strait 0 0-0 0, Spade 1 0-2 2, Mellott 0 0-0 0. Totals: 16 11-21 46.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northern Bedford13 4 5 19-41
Southern Fulton4 12 20 10-46
3-point field goals: Northern Bedford 4 (Cottle 2, Smith 2); Southern Fulton 3 (T. Morton 2, Wertz).
Records: Northern Bedford (17-7); Southern Fulton (21-1).
Officials: Don Donaldson, Sarah Fye, Steve Mellott.