EBENSBURG - Huntingdon junior center Brianna Rivello had a quiet first half Wednesday night in her team's District 6Class AAA semifinal matchup against Ligonier Valley at Central Cambria High School.
With just two points at the intermission and her team trailing for most of the second half, Rivello scored seven of her team's 13 fourth-quarter points to lead the Lady Bearcats to a 38-34 victory and a berth in the finals at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against Greater Johnstown at Mount Aloysius College.
"She carried us," Huntingdon coach Amanda Easter said. "She carried us on her shoulders. She took the game over."
Rivello finished with 11 points, but her fast-break layup just 20 seconds into the fourth quarter was likely the most important. The basket broke a 4:36 scoring drought for Huntingdon and brought the team back to within three points of the Lady Rams.
"Being an upperclassman now, I feel like someone needed to step up to be a leader," Rivello said. "I just had to stay vocal and stay positive out there."
On Huntingdon's next possession, Rivello converted a driving layup to make the score 32-29. In a game of droughts, Ligonier Valley's basket at 5:16 marked the beginning of the most important stretch of the game. It was its last points.
"They just believed in themselves more, and I think they knew they were frazzling [Ligonier Valley]," Easter said of her defense. "That gave them the confidence to keep the pressure on."
Even with Ligonier Valley struggling at its offensive end, Huntingdon did little to take advantage until senior guard Shannon Henney hit her third 3-pointer with 2:44 to play to cut the deficit to two, 34-32. Henney led the team with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Rivello was fouled after a Ligonier Valley turnover, and she sank both free throws to tie the score at 34 with 2:10 remaining. On the next possession, she found senior guard Katie Kurtz open on the left baseline for a jumper to make it 36-34, the Lady Bearcats' biggest lead since the opening minutes. Kurtz finished with seven points. As Ligonier Valley continued to spin its wheels on the offensive end, Rivello and Henney each hit a free throw in the final 30 seconds to set the final.
"I think it was the heart that finally came out," Easter said. "Something clicked, and [we] just got intense on defense. That's what we've done all year."
Rivello's basket nearly four minutes into action gave the Lady Bearcats an 8-2 lead as their 2-3 zone created problems for Ligonier's offense. The Lady Rams called timeout shortly after that bucket, and it turned the momentum for a good portion of the first half.
Taylor Rudnik hit a 3- pointer on the Lady Rams' first possession after the timeout, fueling a 10-0 run that lasted a little more than five minutes. Rudnik hit another 3 during that run to give Ligonier its first lead of the game at 10-8 as the first quarter came to a close. She led Ligonier with 13 points.
"The girls were spreading the floor looking for the open areas," Ligonier Valley coach Valerie Ray said. "When we drove, we were successful getting to the hoop and we drew the fouls. We just didn't do it enough."
Henney's second 3-pointer of the first half broke the run, but the Lady Bearcats trailed until Ellie Keller hit a jumper in the final minute to tie it at 20-20 at halftime.
LIGONIER VALLEY (34): Miller 1 3-4 5, Rudnik 4 3-4 13, McLaughlin 1 0-0 2, Bloom 4 0-0 8, Wynn 1 0-0 2, Ross 2 0-0 4. Totals - 13 6-8 34.
HUNTINGDON (38): Kurtz 3 0-0 7, Felton 0 2-4 2, Henney 5 1-2 14, Keller 2 0-0 4, Rivello 4 3-4 11. Totals - 14 6-10 38. Totals - .
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ligonier Valley10 10 10 4 - 34
Huntingdon8 12 5 13 - 38
3-point goals: Ligonier Valley 2 (Rudnik); Huntingdon 4 (Henney 3, Kurtz).
Records: Ligonier Valley (13-11); Huntingdon (18-5).