HOLLIDAYSBURG - Through three quarters of their first-round District 6-AA girls basketball playoff game Wednesday night, heavily favored Marion Center was getting all it could handle from feisty Central.
Through three quarters, tenth-seeded Central held a 28-27 lead over seventh-seeded Marion Center, and an upset was very much in the making.
"Through three quarters, we felt really good about where we were at against a quality team like Marion Center,'' first-year Central coach Mike Horton said.
The fourth quarter, however, was a different story. Marion Center (19-4) owned it, 20-3, to pull away for a 47-31 victory at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School gymnasium.
"They made some outside shots that they didn't make earlier, and that forced us to extend our defense,'' Horton said of the Lady Stingers, who will advance to play second-seeded Westmont Hilltop in Friday night's quarterfinal round at Central Cambria High School. "A 3-point fourth quarter is not going to do it any time, especially in the playoffs.''
Marion Center made adjustments both offensively and defensively in forging its comeback.
"We tightened up our defense at halftime,'' Marion Center coach Janice Brocious said. "We wanted to take away their 3-point shooting. We weren't making our shots offensively, but I told our players to just relax - that the shots were going to fall.''
They did in the fourth quarter, when Marion Center came out of the gates strong with an 8-point run to take a 35-27 lead.
Senior forward Chantel Glasser hit a jump shot from the right corner to give Marion Center its first lead of the night, 29-28, in the opening moments of the fourth quarter. Two senior guards, Jennifer Irvin and Kearsten Brocious, followed with 3-pointers from the left side to cap the game-turning rally.
Kearsten Brocious, the daughter of Marion Center's head coach, led Marion Center with 17 points, while Irvin added 13, including nine in the fourth quarter.
"Our four seniors didn't want this to be their last game,'' Janice Brocious said. "Central was doing a good job of collapsing on Chantel, who is our leading scorer, so we needed our guards to step up and hit some shots. And they did a nice job of doing that.''
Central, which finished 11-9, held a pair of seven-point leads, 22-15 on senior forward Ashley Smith's 3-pointer late in the second quarter, and 25-18 on another Smith 3-pointer early in the third quarter. Smith scored a game-high 21 points, and also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Horton saluted graduating seniors Smith, Nicole Myers, and Laura Ritchey for their contributions.
"We have three quality seniors who will leave some big shoes to fill,'' Horton said. "They led by example every practice, and they've taken us to a spot where not many people thought we'd be.''
With a decent returning nucleus, Central's immediate future looks bright.
"We have a nice junior high group coming up, and our underclassmen know their responsibilities,'' Horton said. "We'll keep working to get better.''
MARION CENTER (47): Irvin 4 3-5 13, Brocious 5 2-2 17, C. Glasser 2 3-4 7, M. Glasser 0 1-2 1, Snyder 2 2-2 7, Beer 1 0-1 2, Oterson 0 0-0 0. Totals - 14 11-16 47.
CENTRAL (31): Smith 6 6-9 21, Ritchey 1 0-1 2, Myers 0 0-0 0, McGraw 2 2-2 6, Snyder 0 0-0 0, Johnston 1 0-0 2, Long 0 0-0 0, Kensinger 0 0-0 0. Totals - 10 8-12 31.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Marion Center9 6 12 20 - 47
Central11 11 6 3 - 31
3-point goals: Marion Center 8 (Brocious 5, Irvin 2, Snyder); Central 3 (Smith 3).
Records: Marion Center (19-4); Central (11-9).
Officials: Mike Conron, Barry Rossman, Brad Martz.