Buzzer beater: Smith’s bucket lifts Valley over B-A

BELLWOOD — Halee Smith might not have a clock in her head, but the 5-foot-10 Juniata Valley sophomore has ice water in her veins, strength in her handle and money in her shot.

She also has an incredible flair for the dramatic.

Emilie Leidig’s second 3-pointer in the last minute gave Bellwood-Antis — the Inter-County Conference North Division champion five years running — a one-point lead over the visiting Lady Hornets with 5.3 seconds left. Smith, though, dribbled the length of the court and banked in the game-winning bucket at the buzzer to lift Valley to a 57-56 victory in a classic of a high school girls basketball game on Friday night before a full gym.

It’ll be one of those games three times as many people will claim they attended 10 years from now.

“The atmosphere … holy …. It felt like a playoff game already,” Smith said within a throng of jubilant Lady Hornet fans after her team-high 18th and 19th points won the contest. “I tried to do what was smart, and I guess it worked.”

The first clash this season between reigning PIAA Class 1A finalist Juniata Valley and 2017 PIAA Class 2A semifinalist Bellwood more than lived up to its hype. Neither team led by more than seven points, and there was one tie and three lead changes in the last minute alone in a cleanly-played tilt with only 11 turnovers on each side. The Lady Hornets prevailed in spite of a 25-point, eight-rebound, four-assist, four-steal performance by Lady Devil all-state sophomore Alli Campbell and 10 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots by 6-1 B-A soph Sakeria Haralson.

Rachelle Hopsicker, a standout scholastic and college player before taking over at Valley and becoming the state’s coach of the year in her classification last year, said she’s never been part of anything quite like it.

“I’ve been in a couple (that have been similar), but none that meant so much,” Hopsicker said. “Since I’ve started coaching, Bellwood has been there, and these kids have put in so much effort and been focused on getting over this Bellwood hump.”

It required a terrific play at the end to make it happen, though, and Smith provided it. She took the inbounds pass and pushed the dribble straight up the court to the basket, where she finished near the rim despite Haralson waiting to contest her.

“We knew whoever got the ball in had to take it up strong. We had to try to (at least) draw that foul, and, foul or no foul, it had to be a good shot,” Smith said.

Smith said she wasn’t even thinking about the time remaining. She was just concerned with getting the best shot she could.

“It was all about your mind and what you needed to do,” Smith said. “With the time being what it was, I had to do the best I could. It was pretty crazy.”

Also getting 11 points from Sydney Reed, Valley improved to 9-2 overall and 5-0 in division play, its only losses coming at the hands of Altoona and Penns Valley. Bellwood dipped to 4-1 in the division and 10-2 overall.

“They made one last play to win the game. Anyone that comes out of that game and doesn’t think those are two of the best teams in Pennsylvania is completely and utterly out of their minds,” B-A coach Jim Swaney said.

Bellwood built a 24-17 lead in the second quarter and held a 42-36 advantage on the second of Leidig’s four 3-pointers with 5:05 left in the third quarter. Valley, though, got a four-point edge in the fourth quarter and went into its trademark four-corners offense, but Leidig nailed a trey from the corner with 57.5 second left to tie it at 53, then swished another from the right side for a one-point Lady Devil lead to answer Taylor Leidy’s basket off Smith’s assist.

“We know every game with Juniata Valley is going to be a hard-fought game,” said Campbell, who plays AAU ball with all five Lady Hornet starters. “Em was clutch at the end with those two 3s. We played together. We played with passion. We played with energy.”

Juniata Valley, however, was able to weather it all. Reed made three 3-pointers, but the play she made that didn’t get into the box score might have loomed largest: After the shock of Leidig’s final 3-pointer, she still maintained the presence of mind to immediately call time out.

Those precious 10ths of a second might have been the difference between Smith’s bucket winning the game or coming after the final buzzer.

“We knew it was going to be tough. We knew they were going to get runs, and we were going to have some runs. We just had to keep playing,” Reed said. “When it comes down to those moments, you just have to tough it out.”

The squads will face each other again on Feb. 5 in Alexandria. The Lady Hornets left the gym happy but aware that it was just one game with more than half a season still ahead of them.

“I think it gives us confidence, but it also puts pressure on our backs. The next game, we have to forget about this game that we just won. It’s a new game,” Smith said.

Game notes: Hayden Taylor and Maddie Mattas scored nine points apiece for Juniata Valley. … Both teams return to action on Monday. Valley travels to West Branch, while Bellwood hosts Moshannon Valley. … There was no junior varsity game. The varsity clash was preceded by a junior high game, which Juniata Valley took, 28-22.

JUNIATA VALLEY (57): Leidy 2 2-4 7, Taylor 3 3-3 9, S. Reed 4 0-0 11, H. Smith 8 2-3 19, Mattas 4 1-2 9, L. Reed 0 0-0 0, O. Smith 1 0-1 1. Totals — 22 8-13 57.

BELLWOOD-ANTIS (56): Campbell 9 6-7 25, D’Angelo 2 0-0 5, Leidig 4 0-0 12, Hollen 1 2-2 4, Haralson 4 2-4 0, Shuke 0 0-0 0. Totals — 20 10-13 56.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Juniata Valley 13 19 18 7 — 57

Bellwood-Antis 14 18 14 10 — 56

3-point goals: Juniata Valley 5 (S. Reed 3, Leidy, H. Smith); Bellwood-Antis 6 (Leidig 4, Campbell, D’Angelo).

Records: Juniata Valley (9-2; 5-0 ICC North); Bellwood-Antis (10-2; 4-1 ICC North).

Officials: Joe Bilka, Ricky Dillon, Don Wagner.

JV: No game.

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