JV steals momentum

Lady Hornets stop Kennedy Catholic

DuBOIS — Kennedy Catholic’s Lady Eagles came out of the timeout midway through the third quarter and, as a group, slapped the Beaver Gymnasium floor Duke-style and got into a defensive stance.

It was probably the worst thing they could have done. Juniata Valley prides itself on defense, too, and that slap of the floor was a bit like a slap to the face.

“That gave us more (motivation),” Lady Hornet freshman Halee Smith said.

Smith promptly swished an open 3-pointer from the left wing to cut Kennedy’s lead from six to three. That ignited a 12-0 Lady Hornet run. Valley outscored the District 10 champ 21-5 over the last 12 minutes and punched its ticket into the PIAA girls basketball semifinals for the first time in program history with a hard-earned 42-32 victory before an electric, standing-room, largely green clad crowd on Saturday at DuBois Area High School.

“This is definitely one of the most exciting things, and it’s awesome that, as a team, we can share it together,” said Valley pivot Maddie Mattas, who powered her way to a game-high 13 points. “We’re definitely going to celebrate.”

It didn’t take long for them to start. Getting through the throng of fans that stormed the court afterward was nearly as tough as getting to the hoop during the game between the two defensive powers, and it took a while before the floor could be cleared for the second game between North Clarion and Bishop Carroll — the Lady Huskies, an 58-49 winner, will play the Lady Hornets in a rematch of the District 6 final on Tuesday at a site to be announced.

The Lady Hornets were knocked off by Marian Catholic in their only other trip to the state’s elite eight in 2005, but they won’t be the only ones treading a fresh path from here on out. Their coach, Rachelle Hopsicker, had never gotten beyond the quarterfinals as a player or a coach before this weekend, and she went to play college ball at Fordham.

“We lost on a last-second shot (when I was in high school),” Hopsicker said. “Both teams, we knew coming in, were going to be defenders, and it was a fight on defense the entire time.”

Now 23-5, Valley also got 12 points from junior guard Sydney Reed, including a 4-for-4 performance at the foul line in the fourth quarter and a pair of 3-pointers.

“We really have a special group here,” Reed said. “We really love playing together. We focus on defense. That’s what we take pride in.”

The squads only combined for 26 field goals, and many of the 29 free throws taken were late when Kennedy Catholic was behind and needed to foul to get the ball back.

The Lady Eagles, who lost to Bishop Guilfoyle in this round last season, had a 27-21 lead after Neely Whitehead and Makayla Shannonhouse made 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half. However, Kennedy was turned the ball over five times in the third quarter and shot just 2-for-13 from the floor in the third, ending its season at 24-2.

“We got cold. We missed a lot of shots. We were 12-for-44 from the field. We missed a few shots we normally make. We missed some foul shots, and, to their credit, they started hitting their shots. They played a heck of game,” Lady Eagles coach Chris Mele said. “Their kids play hard, like ours do, and they had some kids hit some big shots.”

Probably none was bigger than Smith’s third-quarter 3. It broke a 7-0 Kennedy run.

“I was nervous. They really put a burst on us, but we had to keep our heads,” said Smith, who finished with nine points. “We had to take those open shots. I think that was a good shot for me to take, and I’m glad I took it.”

Hayden Taylor followed with a driving layup. Then, after the teams went scoreless for nearly 2 minutes, Smith drove and scooped in a shot with 1:01 left in the quarter to give Juniata Valley a 28-27 lead.

The Lady Hornets never trailed again, getting a big 3 from the corner from Reed off Taylor Leidy’s inbound pass before the third quarter ended.

“We felt good coming into the game. We were all pumped up,” Reed said.

Both of Valley’s bigs, Smith and Mattas, were in foul trouble. Smith sat much of the first quarter with two, but Mattas came up big with nine points in the second quarter to not only keep the Lady Hornets close but allow them to take a 19-17 lead into the locker room.

“Halee’s a big part of our team and our scoring. With her fouls, I knew someone had to step up, and I knew it had to be me,” said Mattas, who was averaging 10.0 points coming in. “We knew if we came together as a team, that we would be fine.”

Hopsicker said she felt the Lady Hornets’ 43-28 win over WPIAL champion Winchester Thurston in the second round benefited Valley in preparation for Kennedy Catholic.

“Our last game really helped us to be prepared for this game, because it was tight, back-and-forth, and we could have folded at any moment,” Hopsicker said.

Juniata Valley will hope another hard-fought victory will help them make up whatever gap there was with Carroll from two weeks ago. The Lady Huskies prevailed by a 49-41 count in the D6 championship game after Valley built a big first-quarter lead.

“(This) was like a mirror image of playing Bishop Carroll,” Hopsicker said. “Five great defenders. There is no weak link. I think we mirrored each other. I think the three of us are pretty darn similar.”

KENNEDY CATHOLIC (32): Fusco 1 2-4 4, Shannonhouse 3 0-1 7, Burns 0 0-0 0, Fisher 5 1-4 11, Berardi 1 2-3 4, Whitehead 1 0-0 3, Magestro 1 0-0 3. Totals — 12 5-12 32.

JUNIATA VALLEY (42): Leidy 1 4-7 6, Taylor 1 0-3 2, S. Reed 3 4-4 12, Smith 3 2-2 9, Mattas 6 1-1 13, Jefferis 0 0-0 0, L. Reed 0 0-0 0. Totals — 14 11-17 42.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Kennedy Catholic 6 11 10 5 –32

Juniata Valley 4 15 12 11–42

3-pointers: Kennedy Catholic 2 (Magestro, Whitehead, Shannonhouse); Juniata Valley 3 (S. Reed 2, Smith).

Records: Kennedy Catholic (24-2); Juniata Valley (23-5).

Officials: Jeff Jovenetti, Chip Mason, Karen Davis.

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