EBENSBURG - After meeting twice earlier in the season, most recently in the WestPAC championship game, Portage Lady Mustangs coach Lance Hudak could foresee how closely contested it would be when the two met in Saturday's PIAA Class A first-round playoff game.
He couldn't have been more correct.
In a contest that featured 12 lead changes, nine of which came in the second half, the Lady Mustangs fell to Berlin, 50-47, at Central Cambria High School.
"This game was everything that I expected," Hudak said. "It was a battle to the very end of two very evenly-matched teams and two proud programs that left everything on the court."
The loss ended the season for Portage (22-4), while Berlin (23-4) will go on to face Vincentian Academy in the second round on Wednesday.
"We knew they'd play tight, high-pressure defense," Berlin coach Rachel Prosser said. "They brought it and we handled it the best I could hope for."
With 18 seconds left in the game, the Lady Mountaineers' Marah Riley sank two free throws to increase the Berlin lead to three points.
Portage's Emily Chobany missed a final 3-point attempt with six seconds left and after finding the offensive rebound, the Lady Mustangs were not able to get another attempt in the air.
Chobany led all scorers with 17 points, and forward Olivia McCabe added eight.
"In games like this it comes down to a few possessions at the end," Hudak said. "Berlin capitalized on their foul shots when they needed to. As close as things were, it's the little things like [foul shots] that make the difference."
"I'm proud of my girls," Prosser said. "I've been preaching defense wins games all year and we buckled down at the end and made them try a tough shot."
After jumping out to a 7-3 lead, Berlin went on an 11-0 run to end the first, a quarter that saw Portage commit 10 turnovers and Chobany pick up two fouls.
The Lady Mustangs found a way to erase that lead in the second quarter, as they were able to regain the lead at half, 27-26.
"We battled foul trouble from the start," Hudak said. "Being down 14-7 after first, we showed character and played through it. In the second [quarter] we battled back to get the lead at halftime, which made the fouls not seem that bad."
After Olivia McCabe picked up her third foul with 3:33 remaining in the third, she was called for a charge and her fourth foul on the final play of the quarter.
McCabe fouled out with just 1:20 remaining in the game, but Berlin's Shelby Coughenour missed the front ends of two one-and-one opportunities on back-to-back possessions.
Chobany was not able to tie the game, missing one of her two free throws, before Riley made both of hers for the Lady Mountaineers to set the final score.
Aleesa Fieg led Berlin with 15 points, while Coughenour added 14.
Portage will lose senior starters Candice Ramus and Emily McCabe, but will return 10 players, including its two leading scorers in Chobany and Olivia McCabe, that have gained valuable experience throughout the season.
"The two seniors were great leaders," Hudak said. "The underclassmen have played in a lot of big time games this year and its only going to help us moving forward to try and and advance further next year."
BERLIN BROTHERSVALLEY (50): Fieg 5 3-6 15, Riley 2 5-6 9, Coughenour 4 6-8 14, Craig 0 2-2 2, McClucas 5 0-2 10, Trulick 0 0-0 0. Totals - 16 16-24 50.
PORTAGE (47): Chobany 6 5-7 17, Zatek 1 0-0 2, Ramus 1 0-0 2, E. McCabe 2 0-0 4, O. McCabe 4 0-1 8, Nolan 2 0-0 6, Wozniak 1 0-0 2, Jubina 1 4-4 6. Totals - 18 9-12 47.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Berlin14 12 13 11 - 50
Portage7 20 13 7 - 47
3-point goals: Berlin Brothersvalley 2 (Fieg 2); Portage 2 (Nolan 2).
Records: Berlin Brothersvalley (23-4); Portage (22-4).