Juniata Valley to play for state title

Juniata Valley’s massive gathering of fans serenaded Maddie Mattas prior to Tuesday’s PIAA Class 1A high school girls basketball semifinal against Bishop Carroll Catholic with a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

It was fitting, considering how much Mattas and the rest of her Lady Hornets teammates have grown up over the past couple of weeks following their District 6 championship loss to the Lady Huskies.

After being poked in the eye and knocked to the floor several times in the district title game, Mattas came into Tuesday’s game at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse as the aggressor and dominated the paint in the first half. Juniata Valley followed suit, building a seven-point halftime lead and expanding it in the second half before eventually winning, 46-33, to clinch its first trip to a PIAA state championship game in program history.

“It’s my birthday, so this was my birthday wish,” Mattas said. “I just wanted to win so bad, and my teammates wanted this so bad. The whole gym singing to me just took all my nerves away. I was ready to go after that.”

A pair of Mattas putbacks, one in the first quarter and another in the second, caused Bishop Carroll coach Bob Gongloff to call timeouts and elicited roars from the crowd. The second basket put Juniata Valley ahead, 24-16, and the Lady Hornets remained in control the rest of the game.

The 6-foot junior finished with eight points and six rebounds after scoring just four in the district title game. More importantly, Mattas limited the impact of Bishop Carroll’s Emily Kutskel, who finished with two points and two rebounds after having 10 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks in the previous game.

“Maddie did a great job,” Juniata Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker said. “She kept (Kutskel) out of the lane, and that made it a lot tougher on her. Maddie was physical with her, and we told her that eventually, if we did that, we could wear her down.

“We gave Kutskel a lot of confidence last game. This time, Maddie went in with a lot of confidence and took it away from her.”

The Lady Huskies trimmed Juniata Valley’s lead to four late in the third quarter when Jourdan Williams, who led Carroll with 11 points, made a 3-pointer. But the Lady Hornets responded when Hayden Taylor competed a traditional three-point play to end the quarter.

Juniata Valley played keep-away from Bishop Carroll in the fourth quarter and limited the Lady Huskies to one point.

Though she admitted it hurt at the time, Hopsicker said losing the district title game was an important growing experience for her team.

“Losing that game might have been the best thing for us to get to Hershey,” Hopsicker said. “It prepared us more and more each step because of the path we had to take. If we had won that game, we may have lost the next game. By taking the harder road, those three games, prepared us for tonight.”

Those three wins, against Shanksville-Stonycreek, Winchester Thurston and Kennedy Catholic, not only helped build the young Lady Hornets’ confidence, but helped them improve their game against elite competition.

“The first half against Winchester Thurston, we struggled passing,” Hopsicker said. “In the second half, we made better passes. We improved. The next game, we got out-rebounded early. The second half, we limited second-chance opportunities, and we improved again. Finally, we have improved on taking care of the ball at the end of a game against elite opponents.”

Juniata Valley freshman Halee Smith led all scorers with 17 points and was overcome by the support of the Alexandria area.

“I want to thank the community for coming out,” Smith said. “It gives us motivation to play even better. I know we were the underdogs, and having those fans behind us was amazing.”

As Juniata Valley’s fans tossed Hershey kisses onto the floor, Hopsicker was overcome with emotion.

“Everyone that plays basketball dreams of going to Hershey,” Hopsicker said. “To see the kids work so hard and give that effort every night non-stop, it just shows hard work pays off. Our kids worked their butts off.

“Businesses shut down today. We had people greeting us as we went over the bridge in town. My phone has been going off non-stop, and this entire community has supported these kids non-stop. It’s amazing. We have brought an entire town together.”

The Lady Hornets will play District 3 champion Lebanon Catholic, a 41-37 winner over Jenkintown in the other Class 1A semifinal, on Friday at Hershey’s Giant Center at noon.

“It was Juniata Valley’s day to shine,” Gongloff said. “I’m glad for them. They should be bringing home the state championship. I don’t think the other side could handle either one of us. I’d like to see it stay in District 6. We’ll come back next season, and this is going to be a rivalry.”

BISHOP CARROLL (33): Borlie 2 0-0 5, Martinazzi 2 2-2 7, Divido 2 0-0 4, Haigh 2 0-0 4, Kutskel 0 2-4 2, Yahner 0 0-0 0, Williams 4 2-3 11, Gittings 0 0-0 0, Blake 0 0-0 0. Totals — 12 6-9 33.

JUNIATA VALLEY (46): S. Reed 0 6-8 6, Taylor 2 2-3 7, Leidy 3 2-2 8, Smith 5 7-8 17, Mattas 4 0-0 8, Jefferis 0 0-0 0, L. Reed 0 0-0 0. Totals — 14 17-21 46.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Bishop Carroll 14 7 11 1 — 33

Juniata Valley 17 11 11 7 — 46

3-point goals: Bishop Carroll 3 (Borlie Martinazzi, Williams); Juniata Valley 1 (Taylor).

Records: Bishop Carroll (23-6); Juniata Valley (24-5).

Officials: Tona Williams, Dave Pray, Justin Fraker.

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