GREENSBURG - The officiating in the first half of Claysburg-Kimmel's PIAA Class A second round girls basketball playoff game on Thursday at Hempfield Area High School left the Lady Bulldogs in a foul mood in more ways than one.
It also left them looking up at District 10 champion Kennedy Christian much of the night.
The Lady Bulldogs, the consolation game winners from District 6, battled back several times but never were able to fully make up the ground, as time ran out on their attempted rally, and their season came to an end, 45-38.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Abby Kulick (23), Rachel Walter (33) and Elizabeth Weiland walk off the court following Claysburg’s loss.
"They kept coming back and coming back. They didn't quit. That's for sure," said Claysburg coach Jeff Appleman, whose team finished the year 21-6. "I think we just sort of ran out of steam. You can only climb that mountain so many times."
Claysburg tied the game in the second quarter after falling behind early by seven, then sliced a six-point deficit in half by halftime. The Lady Bulldogs found themselves down by double figures four times after the intermission only to mount runs to get back within striking distance.
However, when Elizabeth Weiland's near steal with 1:08 left went out of bounds and a pair of Abby Kulick 3-pointers didn't find the mark in the last minute, the seven-point lead Kennedy Catholic held for the last 1:49 finally became safe.
Kulick led C-K with 13 points, while Paige Burk, usually a starter coming off the bench this night, fired in 12 on four extra-long 3s. Alexis Locke, battling inside against 6-foot-1 April Bocian, pulled down 15 rebounds in defeat.
"It's definitely frustrating," Locke said of continuing to fight back only to be kept at arm's length by the Lady Golden Eagles. "But we had the heart. We have the passion. We wanted to win. As long as you have that, we were going to keep going [until time ran out]."
Rebekah Kish fronted Kennedy Christian with 12 points, including seven points and a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter that gave the Lady Eagles their first advantage, and Bocian made it tough for Claysburg to get easy shots inside by blocking six. Kennedy next will play District 7 champion and defending PIAA runner-up Vincentian, a 61-48 winner over Berlin Brothersvalley in the second game at Hempfield, on Saturday.
The Lady Eagles improved to 23-2.
"We had just a great team effort," Kennedy coach Chris Mele said. "[Claysburg-Kimmel] is a good ball club. They play really hard, and I give credit to them. It was a hard-fought win."
Claysburg was deep in foul trouble almost from the start. Weiland, starting in Burk's place, had her second foul by 5:40 of the first quarter, and Locke and Ickes joined her with two by the end of the period, as Kennedy Catholic was in the one-and-one with 39.6 seconds left. Ickes, Weiland and Locke had three personals before halftime.
The Lady Bulldogs were whistled for eight fouls to Kennedy Catholic's four in the opening quarter and had 13 to the Lady Eagles' seven by the half.
"That certainly was a big influence on the game. I just didn't know what was a foul and what wasn't a foul," Appleman said. "The kids were frustrated, angry for sure, and it was our job to keep it together. It was a very difficult task."
Kennedy, though, wasn't able to take advantage, going just 6-for-15 at the line, and when Kulick came up with an offensive rebound and kicked to Burk for a 3-pointer just before the second quarter buzzer, Claysburg, despite all the adversity, was within three points.
The foul problems, though, affected the Lady Bulldogs in other ways than just the scoreboard.
"That's the thing. When we all get in foul trouble, we can't play our game," Kulick said. "Defense is what gets us. When we get our defense going, our offense comes. When we get in foul trouble, we can't play our defense, because we're hands on. You have to play off, just so they don't call fouls."
Down as many as 12 in the second half, Claysburg was within five on Kulick's steal and layup late in the third quarter and sliced an 11-point deficit to six on a pair of Kulick free throws midway through the fourth.
"It was just emotion," Kulick said of what kept the Lady Bulldogs coming back. "I didn't want this to be our seniors' last game."
Burk gave the Lady Bulldogs a big lift with her four treys, all of which were well behind the 3-point line.
"How about No. 4 [Burk]?" Mele said. "She has unlimited range. Phenomenal."
Just a sophomore, Burk will be back. Kulick and Locke, though, played their final games for the Lady Bulldogs, as did point guard Madison Ickes and reserve guard Rachel Walter.
"I am more than ecstatic with all of our accomplishments," Kulick said. "I can't be more happy. I mean, look were we are. Look where we finished."
This was Claysburg's deepest foray into the playoffs since the Lacey Claar-led 2007 team made it all the way to the state semifinals. All but one of the Lady Bulldogs' losses was to a district champion.
"I'm so proud of everyone and so thankful for our coaches coming to Claysburg," Locke said. "I wanted to go further, but we made it this far. It hasn't been done in how long, and I'm incredibly proud of everyone."
KENNEDY CATHOLIC (45): Hood 4 1-2 9, O'Brien 0 2-5 2, Kish 4 1-2 12, Kress 3 1-2 7, Bocian 3 1-3 7, Zacherl 2 0-0 4, Fusco 0 0-2 0, Shannonhouse 2 0-0 4. Totals - 18 6-16 45.
CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (38): Ickes 2 1-2 5, Kulick 3 7-10 13, Weiland 2 0-0 4, Glass 1 0-0 2, Al. Locke 1 0-0 2, Burk 4 0-0 12, Acker 0 0-0 0, Walter 0 0-0 0. Totals - 13 8-12 38.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Kennedy Catholic13 9 7 12-45
Claysburg-Kimmel 7 12 11 12-38
3-point goals: Kennedy Catholic 3 (Kish 3); Claysburg-Kimmel 4 (Burk 4).
Records: Kennedy Catholic (23-2); Claysburg-Kimmel (21-6).
Officials: Frank D'Amico, Alec Pierczynski, Mike Pruss.