JOHNSTOWN - The pressure-cooker environment of the PIAA state basketball playoffs often brings out the best in teams, and in individual players.
Resolve is strengthened, character is developed, and personal mettle becomes fine-tuned.
If the Bishop Guifoyle Catholic High School Lady Marauders' group of gifted young players eventually reaches its sky-is-the-limit potential and goes on to win a few state championships over the next three or four years, Thursday night's 65-63 victory over Serra Catholic in the second round of the PIAA Class A playoffs at the Richland Area High School Sports Center may well be remembered as a watershed event.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Alyssa McGhee (14), Annie Dombrowski (center) and Lili Benzel celebrate Bishop Guilfoyle’s win over Serra Catholic.
Bishop Guilfoyle overcame a nine-point third-quarter deficit and survived a gut-check down the stretch against a seasoned, senior-dominated 24-4 Serra Catholic team that finished second in the District 7 tournament this season.
The District 6 champion Lady Marauders (22-5) earned the right to face District 9 champ Clarion - a 41-33 winner over District 7 Quigley Thursday - in the quarterfinals on Saturday at a site and time to be announced.
Freshman guards Lili Benzel and Macy Adams led the Lady Marauders with a game-high 33 points and 16 points, respectively, and both came up big in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
"It was an awesome game,'' said relieved veteran BG coach Mark Moschella in the aftermath of the heart-stopping finish, before deadpanning, "these kids are making me old in a hurry.''
The game came down to the final seconds.
Junior guard/forward Katie Sieg converted a traditional 3-point play - field goal and foul shot - with 3:18 left to tie the score, 63-63.
Then the tension in the building could be cut with a knife the rest of the way. BG called two timeouts to get an optimal shot, and Benzel found an opening but misfired on a runner with 56 seconds left and Serra senior center Nicole Pero grabbed the rebound.
A half-minute later, Serra turned the ball over on an errant pass near midcourt that went out of bounds, giving BG possession for a game-winning opportunity.
Benzel was fouled with 15 seconds left, and made one of two free throws to give the Lady Marauders a 64-63 lead. She missed the second one, but Adams alertly hustled into the lane and grabbed the rebound.
She was fouled on the play, went to the line with eight seconds left, and made one of two free throws to put BG in front, 65-63.
"I heard Coach [Moschella] calling for me to get the rebound,'' said the 5-foot-5 Adams. "I was defending against one of their bigger players, and I got inside and the ball came right to me.''
It was only when the final horn sounded that Moschella and the Lady Marauders could breathe easy. Sieg misfired on a jumper and Pero grabbed the rebound underneath the basket, but her game-tying attempt hit the side of the rim as time expired.
"That's the longest two seconds that I can remember,'' Moschella said of Serra's last-ditch flurry. "That horn couldn't go off fast enough for me. That's a great basketball team that we beat.''
Benzel scored nine of her 33 points in the fourth quarter, giving BG the lead for the first time since the opening moments of the game, 57-56, with a jump shot just over two minutes into the fourth quarter.
Benzel followed with a 3-pointer from the left side 50 seconds later to put the Lady Marauders ahead, 60-56.
"Lili Benzel is just a competitor,'' Moschella said. "She really put the team on her shoulders tonight.''
BG trailed, 36-29 at intermission, but both Benzel and Moschella said the Lady Marauders came out on a mission in the second half.
"In the first half, we weren't doing the little things on defense,'' Benzel said. "In the second half, I felt we did things better. We played as a team, and we brought it.''
Moschella concurred, saying that "You could see the disappointment in the players' eyes at halftime. They knew they had to step it up, and they made the necessary adjustments on defense.''
Serra Catholic made just three of nine shots in the fourth quarter, and lost to BG for the fifth time in as many state playoff meetings.
"It's a tough loss,'' veteran Serra coach Bill Cleary said. "But sometimes, you have to give credit to the opposition. Benzel and Adams made shot after shot tonight to get them back in the game. They showed courage beyond their years. It was a tough game, and a matter of which team was going to blink first.''
Adams drained three 3-point shots in the third quarter, when BG closed a 38-29 deficit to one, 44-43.
"Macy really stepped up and hit some big shots to cut our deficit,'' Moschella said of Adams.
Senior guard Megan Sieg led Serra Catholic with 22 points, while Katie Sieg added 16 and senior Leslie Hoye came off the bench to score 10. BG made 22 of 51 floor shots, while Serra converted 26 of 43.
Next up for BG is Clarion, with a trip to the state semifinals next Tuesday on the line. But Moschella and the Lady Marauders will continue to take things one game at a time.
"Both teams have one day to prepare - we're both in the same situation,'' Moschella said of Clarion. "We will review the game film, and come up with a game plan. I know we will play hard. I just hope that we play well.''
BISHOP GUILFOYLE CATHOLIC (65): Benzel 12 7-9 33, Adams 6 1-2 16, Dombrowski 2 5-8 9, Taddei 0 2-2 2, McGhee 0 0-0 0, Irvin 1 0-0 2, Scipioni 1 0-0 3, Lewis 0 0-0 0, Miller 0 0-0 0. Totals - 22 15-21 65.
SERRA CATHOLIC (63): Czerwien 1 0-0 2, M. Sieg 10 2-2 22, K. Sieg 6 3-3 16, Dindack 3 0-0 7, Pero 2 0-0 4, Hoye 3 4-6 10, Coleman 0 0-0 0, Moon 1 0-0 2. Totals - 26 9-11 63.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bishop Guilfoyle18 11 24 12 - 65
Serra Catholic18 18 20 7 - 63
3-point goals: Bishop Guilfoyle 6 (Adams 3, Benzel 2, Scipioni); Serra Catholic 2 (Dindack, K. Sieg).
Records: Bishop Guilfoyle (22-5); Serra Catholic (24-4).
Officials: Sarah Fye, Craig Elbin, Justin Fischer.