Lady Hornets come out ‘firing’ in win

Photo for the Mirror by Chuck Meyers Halee Smith drives in for a layup, two of her 15 points, during Monday’s win over Blairsville.

HOLLIDAYSBURG — No, it isn’t an elaborate case of deja vu. Although, “Juniata Valley is playing for the district championship” does seem to be working itself into the common local prep sports vocabulary of late.

For the second time in two days, the Valley faithful’s “Hornets” chants filled the gym as the third-seeded Lady Hornets punched their ticket to the district championship game with a 48-31 win over second-seeded Blairsville in the District 6 Class 2A semifinals at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School.

They advance to Thursday night’s championship at Mount Aloysius College against the defending Class 2A state champion, Bellwood-Antis. The Lady Devils were 63-45 winners in a victory over the bracket’s top seed, Penns Manor.

Valley was off to a fast start early, as both teams opened the game trading 3-pointers before the Lady Hornets jumped out to a 10-1 run. Hayden Taylor hit two 3-pointers to answer the one by teammate Halee Smith at the outset of the game. Both finished the night with 15 points.

“The kids came out firing,” Lady Hornet coach Rachelle Hopsicker said. “We hit a lot of good shots, and we executed our stuff. (Blairsville’s) a good team. They’re physical. They ran their sets, and they’re pretty disciplined. We’re pretty happy about this win.”

Blairsville was held to just 13 points on four buckets and a handful of free throws in the first half. It’s these kind of defensive performances that Hopsicker says have become the standard for a team that is headed to a district final for the second year in a row.

“They just keep coming at it,” she said. “I thought we rebounded in the first half really well. Not so much in the second half. Maybe fatigue played into that.”

The Lady Bobcats didn’t go away quietly, reeling off eight unanswered points to end the third quarter, and Sidney McCully (game-high 20 points) nailed a 3-pointer to get them within 10 early in the fourth.

Olivia Smith ended all that with a 3-pointer, part of a 7-0 run for the Lady Hornets to put them up 43-26 with about four minutes left. Blairsville would only get five points the rest of the way, while the Hornets took care of their opportunities on the free-throw line, going 7-of-8 in the quarter.

“Games are ebbs and flows, and we have to stop their runs and we want to make our runs longer,” Hopsicker said. “We knew at some point they would have a run because they’re a good team. We just needed to overcome that run.”

Hopsicker said she doesn’t believe there will be any kind of worrying about jitters before her team takes on Bellwood-Antis. The teams have split the season series at one game apiece and are quite familiar with each other.

“It’s another game for us because we’re so used to preparing for Bellwood. And yes, it’s the district championship, but we’re going to look at it the same way we do every game,” Hopsicker said. “I think the girls are at that mindset, too.”

Blairsville coach Richard Thompson felt like his players were very much in the game, but couldn’t answer enough. Not making it to the finals was a disappointing pill to swallow, blaming himself for the tough showing in the first half.

“If you know me well, I’m the worst loser that’s ever existed, despite my age,” Thompson said through a laugh. “I’ll bite on the towel so I don’t say any bad words, but God bless the girls, they gave it all that they could. It was just terrible coaching by me early. I think I did a much better job in the second half, but it was too little, too late.”

“When you’re down sometimes 15 at halftime to Juniata Valley, it’s easy just to hang it up,” Thompson said. “Our girls came out and we pressed hard and we cut it to 10 and forced them into another timeout. I was really excited about where we were at.”

“Even defensively, when they broke it, we were really moving well. We really covered (Hayden Taylor) and (Halee Smith); they couldn’t get a shot,” Thompson said. “They reversed the ball, and then (Olivia Smith) hits the 3. That took a lot of momentum out of us.”

Taylor said the goal for the team all season was to try and get back to the district championship after moving up to Class 2A this season.

“We still want to work just as hard to get back to there and hopefully win it again,” Taylor said. “Every time we play (Bellwood) it always draws a big crowd. It’s a really fun game, and always really intense. We’re going to have to bring our A-game and give it our all against them.”

It will be the third appearance in a District 6 championship game for the Hornet athletics program this school year. The football team made a run to the state semifinals in the fall, and the Hornet boys hoops team qualified for the Class 1A boys title game against Bishop Carroll, which is Wednesday night at Mount Aloysius.

In the Class 2A girls consolation game, Blairsville will play Penns Manor tonight.

JUNIATA VALLEY (48): O. Smith 2 2-2 7, A. Taylor 1 1-2 4, H. Taylor 5 2-4 15, H. Smith 4 5-6 15, Musser 3 1-2 7, Reed 0 0-0 0. Totals — 15 11-16 48.

BLAIRSVILLE (31): Potter 0 0-0 0, McCully 7 4-6 20, Risinger 1 2-4 4, Walbeck 0 0-0 0, Potts 1 1-2 3, Pynos 0 0-0 0, Whitfield 1 0-0 2, Emanuel 0 2-2 2, Foust 0 0-0 0, Oswald 0 0-0 0. Totals — 10 9-14 31.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Juniata Valley 15 13 8 12 — 48

Blairsville 8 5 10 9 — 31

3-point goals: Juniata Valley 7 (O. Smith, A. Taylor, H. Taylor 3, H. Smith 2); Blairsville 2 (McCully 2).

Records: Juniata Valley (21-2); Blairsville (20-5).

Officials: Brad Martz, Joe Hanna, Ryan Ehrie

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