HOLLIDAYSBURG - Speaking with Bellwood-Antis junior guard Ana Hollen earlier in the season it was clear that she and her Lady Blue Devil teammates wanted a shot at Blairsville in the District 6 AA playoffs. And who could blame them?
After all, it was Blairsville that defeated Bellwood-Antis in last year's district championship game, and it was Blairsville that defeated the Lady Blue Devils by two points in a tip-off tournament in the opening game of this season.
Wednesday night, the Lady Blue Devils took full advantage of their shot at revenge, outlasting the top-seeded Lady Bobcats, 38-35, to advance to the Class AA championship game Saturday night at St. Francis.
"We wanted a shot at them and we were prepared. We've worked so hard as a team to get to this point and we knew we were going to win," Hollen said.
The game got off to a slow start as both teams struggled to find any offensive consistency. Turnovers plagued both teams almost from the jump. Bellwood got the early lead at 6-0, but failed to score a single point in the final five minutes of the first quarter and watched as Blairsville closed the quarter with a 9-6 lead.
"The game probably wasn't pretty to watch, but that's what happens sometimes when two good teams get after it and play so hard. We each knew what the other wanted to do and defensively both teams took away a lot," said Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney.
Bellwood responded in the second quarter with a balanced offensive attack. Four different Devils scored in the quarter, led by Hollen's four points. Blairsville managed just six points in the quarter, all scored by junior forward Chelsey Koren, and Bellwood took a 16-15 lead into halftime.
"We never got on track offensively. We knew they would play pressure defense but we just couldn't beat it. We needed someone other than Chelsey and Laurel (O'Barto) to step up and unfortunately that didn't happen," said Blairsville coach Ralph McGinnis.
Koren was the offensive star of the game for the Lady Bobcats, posting a game-best 23 points. In fact, Koren and O'Barto were the only two Blairsville players to score in the entire game.
"We expected Koren and O'Barto to get some points, you can't stop those two scorers, but we wanted to contain them. We did a great job of doing that and we shut down the rest of the team, our defense was outstanding," said Swaney.
Bellwood held the lead for the entire third quarter, fluctuating between a one-point and five-point advantage. However, the Lady Blue Devils could never quite put Blairsville away.
The fourth quarter appeared to be going the same way. But after senior forward Bailey Swogger gave Bellwood a five-point lead with a layup at the 6:02 mark the Lady Blue Devils hit a cold spell. Blairsville took advantage with a 7-0 run over the next four minutes to take a 32-30 lead with 2:20 remaining.
"It definitely got a little nerve-racking when we gave up the lead late, but I was confident we would recover and finish strong," said Hollen.
Freshman guard Karson Swogger put Bellwood back in front quickly as she hit the game's lone three-pointer with 1:48 remaining to put Bellwood back up by one.
A pair of Koren free throws with 1:39 remaining put the Lady Bobcats back up by one, but Hollen hit a runner on the next possession to give the Lady Devils the lead back.
After missed shots by both teams, Bellwood guard Kelly Leamer made perhaps the defensive play of the game. With 36 seconds remaining and protecting a one-point lead, Leamer stripped Blairsville guard Kia Clayton along the sideline and knocked the ball out of bounds off Clayton. Hollen was then able to ice the game hitting three of four free throws in the final seconds to give Bellwood the three-point win.
"That's just Kelly. She doesn't get as much recognition as some of our other players but she is simply a gamer," said Swaney.
Leamer, held scoreless in the game, knew her time to make a big play would come even if her shot wasn't falling.
"My shot was definitely off but I stayed in the game and knew I had to play great defense and find a spot to make a big play. We were determined not to let them beat us again and that motivation carried us in this game," said Leamer.
Next up for Bellwood is a date with Juniata in the District 6 AA Championship Game.
Hollen, who led Bellwood with 15 points in this game, still remembers the hurt from last year's title game loss.
"The loss last year to Blairsville still stings, but we are back this year and we are going to win the District Championship for Bailey (Swogger) and then we are going to make a run in states," she said.
Swaney wasn't quite ready to move on to Juniata but will get there tomorrow.
"Blairsville is such a great team and I have such respect for their program and for Ralph, and that's why this win means so much. I want to enjoy this tonight. I have a tape in my pocket of Juniata and we'll start working on that and do a light practice tomorrow and get ready for the next step," he said.
BELLWOOD-ANTIS (38): B. Swogger 3 0-0 6, K. Swogger 5 0-1 11, Hollen 4 7-9 15, Damiano 2 0-0 4, Leamer 0 0-0 0, Lynn 0 0-0 0, Carles 1 0-0 2 -Totals 15 7-10 38.
BLAIRSVILLE (35): Koren 6 11-14 23, Misleany 0 0-0 0, O'Barto 5 2-4 12, Boyer 0 0-0 0, Ostach 0 0-0 0, Clayton 0 0-0 0 Totals 11 13-18 35.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bellwood-Antis 6 10 10 12 38
Blairsville 9 6 8 12 35
3-point goals: Bellwood-Antis (K. Swogger), Blairsville (None)
Records: Bellwood-Antis (23-2), Blairsville (22-2)