Taylor helps JV survive

JV’s Hayden Taylor puts up a shot next to Laurel’s Makenna Collins on Friday. / Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Talk about saving your best for last.

That’s what Juniata Valley junior Hayden Taylor did Friday night in the first round of the PIAA Class 2A girls basketball playoffs at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse.

With her team down 40-37 with 54 seconds to play in the game, Taylor, who had scored just three points in the first three quarters, wound up scoring six in those final 54 seconds to lead the Lady Hornets to a dramatic 43-40 come-from-behind win over Laurel.

“We knew about her. We wanted to limit her. She’s a southpaw, right? She’s a helluva player,” Laurel coach Matthew Stebbins said.

Taylor hit a base-line jumper with 54 seconds left in the game to make it 40-39. With 31 seconds remaining, Laurel’s Katie Vasalani missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Valley got the rebound.

With 23 seconds left, Taylor hit a running layup to put the Lady Hornets up 41-40, their first lead since the 5:39 mark of the final frame.

“Hayden is as cool as a cucumber in those situations,” Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker said. “It was a perfect situation for her, and she makes the shot.”

Avery Taylor, Hayden’s younger sister, stole the ball off the press with 11 seconds left and got it to her older sibling, who was fouled, and then made two free throws with six seconds remaining for a 43-40 lead.

“Avery getting that steal, taking a chance like that as a freshman, that was just so big for us,” Hopsicker said.

The Lady Spartans (20-6) had one last chance for at least a tie, but Caroline Gibson, who finished with 21 points, was unable to get off her shot as the buzzer sounded.

“I am disappointed and happy at the same time,” Stebbins said. “To come this far and come so close. I heard people were predicting us to lose by 20 or 25 points. We were so close. A couple of turnovers, some missed foul shots. Just so close.”

Hopsicker is just relieved to get to the next round where her team will play District 10’s West Middlesex on Tuesday.

“We’ll learn from this. We will take it home with us … boy, that was stressful,” she said.

Stressful was the first half in which Juniata Valley (22-3) fell behind 24-14 by the break after trailing, 14-10, at the end of one.

“We were not prepared for a 2-3 (defense). We were prepared for their stifling man-to-man defense, and then when they came out in that … that’s on me,” Hopsicker said. “They had the perfect game plan for us.”

Halle and Olivia Smith got Valley back in it during the third quarter. Halle scored 11 of her 17 points in the frame, and Olivia scored the first five points of the frame to start the comeback. Valley was up, 33-31, going into the fourth quarter.

“We beat the WPIAL champ during the regular season. Our girls wanted to come here and prove they could compete on the big stage, and I think we did,” Stebbins said.

LAUREL (40): F. Gibson 2 0-1 4, C. Gibson 9 2-4 21, Lombardo 0 0-0 0, Collins 3 0-2 7, Fedrizzi 1 0-0 3, Slater 2 0-3 5. Totals — 17 2-10 40.

JUNIATA VALLEY (43): Reed 0 0-0 0, O. Smith 3 0-0 7, Jefferis 0 0-0 0, H. Taylor 3 2-2 9, H. Smith 7 1-2 17, Musser 1 1-2 3, A. Taylor 2 1-3 7. Totals — 16 5-9 43.


Laurel 14 10 7 9 — 40

Juniata Valley 10 4 19 12 — 43

3-point goals: Laurel 4 (Collins, Fedrizzi, Slater, C. Gibson); Juniata Valley 6 (A. Taylor 2, H. Smith 2, H. Taylor, O. Smith).

Records: Laurel (20-6), Juniata Valley (22-3).

Officials: Steve Schaaf, Dave Prey, Derek Jones.