INDIANA - There are smiles of happiness and then there are smiles of relief. The one on the face of Kayla Bates at about 2:30 on Saturday afternoon clearly was the latter, because there are games that are close and there are games that push you to the limit, and, despite the 10-point final margin, Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic's PIAA Class A girls basketball quarterfinal game was clearly the latter.
"I like the competitive games. I think that's what keeps us up-tempo, keeping the game going," Bates, BG's senior point guard, said, "but I don't like when it's that close."
It happens almost every March Madness that elite, big-name teams have to fend off challenges from very capable yet less prestigious programs before going on to play for and possibly win the championship. The Lady Marauders hope that's what happened at Ed Fry Arena within IUP's beautiful new Kovalchick Center.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
BG's Brittany Boslet, who injured her nose during the game, is congratulated by teammates after Saturday's win over Clarion.
Guilfoyle, which has gone 3-1 in state title games in the last six years and whose starting lineup includes five seniors, four three-year starters and two players that have been all-state and are headed to Division I colleges, trailed a Clarion team that hadn't gotten this far in 21 years and whose district rarely has turned out PIAA championship contenders heading into the fourth quarter.
It was a two-point game before Halee Adams' field goal with 2:01 left ignited an 8-0 Lady Marauder run to close out the game.
"I don't think we were looking past them at all. I knew they were an aggressive, scrappy team," said Devin Stessney, who scored a team-high 17 points in the nail-biter. "I knew it was definitely a tough game. I just wish we would have been able to pull away earlier and get ourselves together earlier."
In some ways, Saturday could have been the classic trap game for the Lady Marauders. Guilfoyle was coming off a win over one team with a solid state pedigree - Serra Catholic - in which it played brilliantly at time. On the horizon loomed a probable clash with Vincentian, a state semifinalist two of the last three years.
If BG got through that, the hope undoubtedly was there for a showdown with Steelton-Highspire, which beat the Lady Marauders at the Bryce Jordan Center in the 2011 state final and came back to win last year, as well. The Lady Rollers, though, were eliminated on Saturday by Tri-Valley.
To hear the Lady Marauders tell it, though, there was no taking this game for granted, although they might have been hearing people put this game in the win column since seeing the two teams play back-to-back at Indiana Area High School on Wednesday.
"Clarion was 25-3. They're the District 9 champs. We did not look ahead," Moschella said.
One of Clarion's biggest weapons might have been surprise, but the Lady Bobcats had plenty to take advantage of any momentary lapse their opponent gave them. The Lady Bobcats are very athletic all around, and versatile - they have guards that can play around the hoop and forwards who are comfortable handling the ball near midcourt or shooting from deep.
"They're a good team. People underestimate them, and that's how you lose ball games," BG senior 3-point shooting specialist Brit Boslet said. "We have to take every team seriously. We just have to play together as a team. That's how we work."
Of greater concern right now might be the offensive lulls the Lady Marauders have been experiencing. They couldn't shake huge underdog Johnsonburg in the first round until the second half, scoring just four points in the first quarter and 19 in the first half. While Guilfoyle scored 62 points in beating Serra, more than one-third of those came in about a five-minute span of the first half after it went scoreless the opening three minutes.
"It's scary, because you never know when you're going to come out of it or if it will be quick enough," Stessney said. "I think it's just because we're so excited about getting this far. [A state championship's] our goal. We're getting closer and closer to it that I think we're so worried about losing that we can't [score]."
Of course, Guilfoyle has the advantage of an almost unheard of amount of postseason experience. When it came down to the wire, the Lady Marauders were able to draw on that and better able to keep their composure to close things out.
The Lady Marauders are fully aware that, even though, they were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round last season, they are one of the Kentuckys or Dukes of Class A girls basketball. A win against them means more to a lot of teams than another playoff win might.
They aren't Cinderella. They are Goliath. And everyone else would love to be David.
"We have to come out with a lot of energy every game, because we know that everyone wants to beat us," Bates said. "It could be the ending for any team."
Cmor can be reached at 946-7440 or email@example.com.