BELLWOOD - After finishing as District 6 Class AA runners-up a year ago, the Bellwood-Antis Lady Blue Devils have their sights set on the district's top prize this season.
One reason for the optimism is the return of Bailey Swogger. The only senior on the squad, Swogger scored 19 points Thursday as Bellwood mercy-ruled Juniata Valley, 69-21, in a Inter-County Conference North Division matchup.
"It's very important for her to play well," B-A coach Jim Swaney said. "She's very athletic; she gets up and down the floor and she jumps out of the gym.
"She struggled a little with her shot the first four games so it was nice for her to go out and finish right away tonight and get us into the scoring column."
The Lady Devils opened with a pressure defense, forced Valley into numerous turnovers and took control of the game early.
Bellwood scored eight points before Valley even got a shot and led 23-7 after one quarter with Swogger accounting for 13 points. From late in the first quarter to the middle of the second, B-A scored 21 straight points to build a 36-7 advantage.
"It was really big," Bailey said of the fast start. "This is my senior year and it felt good to have a good game."
Swogger had four steals as the Lady Devils came up with 14 picks against the Lady Hornets.
"We usually like to go man-to-man with our defense," she said. "We try to mix it up with full court and half court."
Bellwood led 48-12 at the half and the running clock (mercy rule) kicked in when Karson Swogger, Bailey's freshman sister, nailed a 3-pointer in the first minute of the third quarter.
Swaney said his team has been working on a 2-2-1 press.
"We were very athletic with it tonight," he said. "We were getting to the ball, getting good traps and finishing."
Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker said the pressure defense got the Hornets out of kilter early.
"We tried to prepare for it, but we hadn't played a team with that kind of pressure," Hopsicker said. "They really exposed our weaknesses.
"We played three teams that played us half-court zone defenses," she said, "but we knew this could happen because [Bellwood's] really good."
Bailey Swogger said she doesn't feel any extra pressure as the team's only senior.
"We all work well together," she said. "Me and Ana Hollen like to lead the team."
Hollen, a junior and a Altoona Mirror all-star last year, hit three 3's and chipped in with 15 points. Karson Swogger tallied 10.
"I love playing with [Karson]," Bailey said of her younger sister. "I've been practicing with her my whole life and it's really fun for my last year to get to play with her.
"She's a really good player, too."
Swaney said Bailey Swogger has progressed nicely during her career.
"As a 9th grader, she could be trying at best at times," Swaney said, laughing. "As a senior, I love the kid. You know what you're going to get out of her every game.
"She plays so hard and is so encouraging toward the younger kids. She's a great all-around kid, too - a great student, a great player, a great fit."
JUNIATA VALLEY (21): Leri 2 0-0 4, Myers 2 2-3 6, R. Johnson 0 0-0 0, T. Young 1 0-0 3, Leidy 0 3-6 3, Smith 0 2-2 2, L. Payne 0 0-0 0, D. Johnson 1 0-0 3, Miller 0 0-1 0, Houck 0 0-0 0. Totals - 6 7-12 21.
BELLWOOD-ANTIS (69): K. Swogger 3 3-4 10, B. Swogger 8 2-4 19, Hollen 5 2-2 15, Leamer 1 3-4 5, Damian 2 0-0 4, Lynn 3 2-5 8, Showalter 1 0-1 8, Crider 1 0-0 3, Carles 1 0-0 3, Claar 0 0-0 0, Stevens 0 0-0 0, Whaley 0 0-0 0, Leidig 0 0-0 0. Totals - 25 12-20 69.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Juniata Valley7 5 2 7 - 21
Bellwood-Antis23 25 13 8 - 69
3-point goals: Juniata Valley 2 (T. Young, D. Johnson); Bellwood-Antis 7 (Hollen 3, K. Swogger, B. Swogger, Carles, Crider).
Records: Juniata Valley (2-2); Bellwood-Antis (3-2, 3-0 ICC North).
JV: Bellwood-Antis, 48-9. High scorers-Makayla Carles and Sierra Stevens, B-A, 15 each.