HOLLIDAYSBURG - The Portage girls basketball team has been to the playoffs before, but the Lady Mustangs have never been a No. 1 seed like this time out. They're used to being the hunter, not the hunted.
"You know, it's a No. 1 seed against a No. 8 and people say you should have an easy time," Portage coach Lance Hudak said of Thursday night's District 6 Class A playoff foe Homer-Center. "We've got some playoff experience last year, but this is different. We have seniors who don't want this to be their last game."
Homer-Center gave Portage all it could handle before the Lady Mustangs showed why they were 21-1 and the No. 1 seed, out-scoring the Lady Wildcats, 26-9, in the fourth quarter for a 56-38 victory.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Portage’s Emily Chobany looks to drive on Homer-Center defender Eden?Pohley.
Portage will play Bishop Carroll in the semifinals at a site and time to be determined next week. For three quarters, it seemed as if Homer-Center had a chance to be playing next week.
"I think we came in as the No. 1 seed thinking we were just going to win, but they came to play. We had to say 'Hey, this is a game. We gotta play,'" Portage senior Emily Chobany said. "It feels a little different. We're proud of being the No. 1 seed. We want to keep playing."
Homer-Center (11-14) jumped out to a 10-2 lead on Portage, thanks to the play of 6-foot-1 center Sydney Horel (four points) along with Eden Pohley (three points). Chobany's four points, and two each from Olivia McCabe and Katie Nolan, cut the deficit to 10-8 after one quarter.
"We knew they had the Horel girl," Chobany said. "They use her a lot. I think we were kind of nervous in the first quarter."
Portage got back into it in the second quarter, holding Homer-Center to just three points in the frame. Lexi Wozniak and Paisley Zatek provided the offense, scoring six and five points, respectively, for a 20-13 halftime lead.
"We were getting shot after shot after shot, but nothing was falling," Hudak said of his team's first-half offensive woes.
"I kept telling myself 'Keep shooting. Keep shooting' and they were bound to fall," added Chobany.
Of course, none of that was happening in the third quarter as Homer-Center out-scored the Lady Mustangs, 16-10, in the frame. Julia Buggey scored 10 of her 12 points in the quarter for Homer-Center.
"We've not been in a lot of tight games so you worry about that," Hudak said. "We have not faced a lot of adversity [this year]."
With 48 seconds to go in the third quarter, Alexis Leysock hit two foul shots to put Homer-Center up, 29-27. It was the last time the Lady Wildcats led in the game.
"I think once our shots started to fall, there was a collective 'whew' from our girls," Hudak said.
And fall they did. Nolan hit a three with five seconds left before the third ended for a 30-29 Portage lead. In the first 40 seconds of the fourth quarter, Wozniak and Zatek combined to score eight points for a 38-29 lead at the 7:20 mark.
Eight was as close as Homer-Center got the rest of the quarter as Portage put up 26 points in the final frame while holding its opponent to just nine.
"They came out in that zone and they are bigger than us. We've dealt with that all year, but because we don't have a lot of size, that zone affects us sometimes," Hudak said. "Homer-Center is a good team. They played in a good conference. They have girls who have played in some tough games."
McCabe, Wozniak and Zatek led the Lady Mustangs with12 points each.
"I don't know if the lights went on for us [in the fourth quarter] but I think we wore them down," Hudak said. "We have some good ballplayers on this team. We're not big, but we're like those honey badgers that keep coming at you. Our kids can play."
Buggey led Homer-Center with 12 points while Horel added 10.
HOMER-CENTER (38): Horel 4 1-2 10, Albright 1 2-2 4, J. Buggey 3 4-4 12, Pohley 2 0-0 6, Ginter 0 0-0 0, Berezansky 0 0-2 0, Yancy 0 0-0 0, Leysock 2 2-2 6, M. Buggey 0 0-0 0. Totals - 12 9-12 38.
PORTAGE (56): O. McCabe 5 2-4 12, Nolan 2 1-2 6, K. Jubina 0 2-4 2, Wozniak 4 0-0 12, E. Chobany 4 3-5 11, A. Chobany 0 1-2 1, Zatek 4 2-2 12, Baker 0 0-0 0, Crum 0 0-0 0. Totals - 19 11-19 57.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Homer-Center10 3 16 9 - 38
Portage8 12 10 26 - 56
3-point goals: Homer-Center 5 (J. Buggey 2, Pohley 2, Horel) Portage 7 (Wozniak 4, Zatek 2, Nolan)
Records: Portage (22-1); Homer-Center (11-14)
Officials: Enoch Ferencz, Rex Naylor, Justin Fraker