Valley defense too much for Winchester Thurston

By Sean Wechtenhiser

For the Mirror

JOHNSTOWN — Going into their game Thursday night against District 7 champion Winchester Thurston, the Juniata Valley girls basketball team knew it had to focus on 6-foot-2 center Ayanna Townsend.

And they did just that.

The Hornets held the Bears’ leading scorer to 16 points. However, Juniata Valley’s ability to cover Townsend was not what proved to be the difference in its 43-28 victory, though. Winchester Thurston coach Monica Williams summed up the difference in the game in one word.

“Discipline,” said Williams, whose team finished 22-2. “They (Juniata Valley) were very disciplined. Discipline is always going to win overall.”

The Hornets showed that discipline all night. After leading the entire first half, Juniata Valley (22-5) withstood a third-quarter surge by the Bears. Townsend scored eight of her game-high 16 in the third frame as Winchester Thurston grabbed its first lead, 17-16, early in the second half.

Juniata Valley stayed disciplined and ran its offense. That discipline allowed the Hornets to outscore the Bears, 21-3, over the last 11:01 of the game, including 16-3 in the final quarter.

Freshmen led the way during that stretch for Juniata Valley. Halee Smith scored 13 points during the run, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 25-25. Hayden Taylor netted eight points in the final quarter. Both players combined to hit 9-of-12 free throws in the final frame as well.

Valley also showed discipline in the final quarter, using the clock as an ally once it got the lead. The Hornets’ final nine points came on a layup from the spread offense and free throws.

“We got a five-point lead, and we decided it was beneficial to run that clock,” Juniata Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker said. “Honestly, I think their two best defenders were on the other kids, so we kept getting the ball back to the ones who had the weaker defenders, and it happened to be them. They got fouled, they made their free throws, and that’s what we want.”

The other key was the strong defense on Townsend. She had a 4-inch height advantage on Smith and Maddie Mattas, but Valley’s duo held her in check most of the night. Townsend and the other Bears’ shooters were held to one shot on most offensive possessions, as the smaller Hornets grabbed most of the rebounds.

“I think the important part is we kind of had a sandwich,” Hopsicker said. “We had Halee front her the entire time, and Maddie stayed behind her, so if Halee couldn’t get around to get a rebound then she would go to the side. As long as you have two people on both sides, we tried to occupy both sides for the rebounds. The kids boxed out. They did what they were supposed to do.”

In addition to holding Townsend to 16 points, second- leading scorer Gia Thorpe was held to only one basket. Emma Small was the Bears’ next leading scorer behind Townsend, netting five points.

Juniata Valley put three players in double figures. Sydney Reed (14), Smith (14) and Taylor (13) gave the Hornets a balanced scoring attack.

With the win, Juniata Valley moved into the state quarterfinals. It will face District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic (24-1), a 72-34 winner over Otto-Eldred.

“We know we have a great team,” Hopsicker said. “We know that we can probably beat every team, but we can also lose to them. We are going to do our best to prepare for the next one each time.”

JUNIATA VALLEY (43): S. Reed 5 0-0 14, Taylor 4 3-8 13, Leidy 0 0-0 0, Smith 3 7-8 14, Mattas 1 0-0 2, Jefferis 0 0-0 0, L. Reed 0 0-0 0. Totals — 13 10-16 43.

WINCHESTER THURSTON (28): Thorpe 1 0-0 2, Townsend 7 2-2 16, Van De Venne 0 0-0 0, K. Small 1 1-2 3, E. Small 2 1-2 5, Barelli 1 0-0 2. Totals — 12 4-6 28.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Juniata Valley 10 6 11 16 — 43

Winchester Thurston 5 10 10 3 — 28

Three point field goals: Juniata Valley 7 (S. Reed 4, Taylor 2, Smith); Winchester Thurston 0.

Records: Juniata Valley (22-5); Winchester Thurston (22-2).

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