JV, BC know each other well

A year ago, the District 6 Class 1A champion Bishop Carroll Catholic girls basketball team appeared to be steam-rolling its way to the state championship game when District 6 runner-up Juniata Valley crashed the party and knocked off the Lady Huskies in the PIAA semifinals.

Now it’s Bishop Carroll that hopes to play spoiler to the Lady Hornets’ magical run when the teams meet tonight in another rematch at the site of last year’s game, the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

“We want to work hard and come back and finish some unfinished business,” Bishop Carroll senior Alyssa Martinazzi said.

Juniata Valley topped Bishop Carroll, 48-42, to win its first District 6 championship in girls basketball on Feb. 28. The win was the Lady Hornets’ second straight in the series following their 46-33 win in the state semifinals last year.

Juniata Valley went on to lose to Lebanon Catholic, 55-43, in the state championship game.

One common denominator in all three games is that the Lady Hornets have led after the first quarter. Juniata Valley led by nine in the district title game a year ago, three in the state semifinals that season and seven after a quarter in this year’s title game.

Bishop Carroll coach Bob Gongloff has blamed the slow starts on his own team’s inconsistencies, but he saw something in their victory over Kennedy Catholic on Saturday that gave him hope.

“Right now, they are emotional,” Gongloff said. “If they play with that emotion in the semifinals, no matter what the score, I’m happy. If the ball doesn’t go in the hoop, there’s nothing you can do about it.

“But if we play defense with this kind of emotion, I’ll be happy about it.”

One of the biggest keys in last year’s turnaround was the matchup in the paint between Bishop Carroll’s Emily Kutskel and Juniata Valley’s Maddie Mattas. When the Lady Huskies rallied to win their district title, Kutskel was a huge reason. She scored 10 points, had 16 rebounds and recorded six blocks.

In the state semifinal game, Mattas showed more aggression and helped limit Kutskel to two points and two rebounds.

“I just know she’s so much taller than me,” Mattas said. “I know I need to really box out, and even if I’m not going for the rebound, I need to make sure she isn’t going for the rebound.”

Gongloff said after Saturday’s quarterfinal win that his team is “100 percent better” when Kutskel is at her best.

“I always tell her, ‘unleash the beast,’ and she did (Saturday),” Gongloff said. “She got her double-double at a big time in our season. Hopefully, she carries us the rest of the way through. She’s a tough player, and if she carries that through the rest of the way, we could be a state champion.”

Mattas did not score in this year’s title game. Kutskel scored 10 points, but six of those came after Juniata Valley had built a significant lead in the second half.

“When Emily is on, she really helps that team,” Juniata Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker said. “When Maddie is on, she really helps our team. It is a big matchup, and whoever controls the boards in the game, I think, will come out on top.”

Another factor tonight could be Sydney Reed’s offensive performance. Reed scored just four and six points, respectively, in the first two matchups but has come into her own offensively lately and scored a team-high 16 for Juniata Valley on Feb. 28.

Each team’s leading scorer has basically cancelled the other out in the series. JV’s Halee Smith is averaging 13.7 points, and Martinazzi is averaging 13 points in the three contests.

“There’s a lot of history,” Gongloff said. “Right now, everybody is good, and we just have to prepare and execute the game plan. We’ll be ready for them.”

Regardless of who wins, the pair of local teams and fans are expected to pack the AAHS Fieldhouse, much like they did last season.

“We’re right back at it trying to give them our best game,” Mattas said. “I think it’s great to see two local teams. People from our area come out and support the team and the game, and it makes the atmosphere so much better.”