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CC in first final four

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec Central Cambria’s McKenna Hayward battles for a loose ball with Payton List from Beaver during Friday night’s PIAA playoff game.

GREENSBURG — Nobody expected this.

It had been 21 years since Central Cambria had played in the PIAA quarterfinals in girls basketball, and the outcome didn’t favor the Lady Red Devils, who seemingly have been content some years just to make a trip to the state tournament.

But now, they’re headed to the Class 3A final four for the first time in the school’s history.

McKenna Hayward scored 22 points and Central Cambria went on a first-half, 3-point scoring spree and beat Beaver, 69-35, Friday night in a quarterfinals-round game at Hempfield High School.

“It’s surreal,” Central Cambria coach Brittany Sedlock said. “I just said to my assistant coaches, ‘Did we even think we were going to make the final four at the beginning of the season?’

“I knew we were capable of it, but did I think it would happen? I mean, we’ve never made it past the first round (during Sedlock’s time as coach). It’s awesome. I’m very excited.”

Jenna Bauer added 15 points for Central Cambria (20-7), the third-place team in the District 6 playoffs. The Red Devils move to the semifinals Monday at a site to be determined against District 3 runner-up Delone Catholic, a 50-41 winner over WPIAL champion Neshannock, in another quarterfinal game.

“It’s unreal,” Hayward said. “This is the farthest our school has ever gone in any (team sport). The fact that we really wanted to win the (Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference), and that fell through, and we wanted to win districts, and that fell through, it’s a pick-up for us because we were down after that.”

Central Cambria this season was knocked out of District 6 championship contention by Penns Valley, which fell to Beaver in the PIAA second round.

“We definitely didn’t expect this at the beginning of the year,” Hayward said. “Our goal every year is to win the LHAC and districts and get into states. Every single year since my freshman year, we got kicked out by Bishop Canevin. It’s crazy. I’m very, very excited.”

Beaver (19-6), with a lineup dominated by underclassmen, still managed to attract some attention this season, playing into the middle of March, despite entering the state tournament as the sixth-place team from the WPIAL playoffs.

The Bobcats typically go with three sophomores and a freshman among their starting five. The outcome against Central Cambria wasn’t a surprise to Beaver coach Greg Huston, considering the Red Devils’ regular lineup includes three seniors, Hayward, a Bloomsburg commit, among them.

“We’re disappointed we lost,” Huston said, “but it’s hard to be too upset after taking as young a team as this as far as we went. They were just more athletic than us. Their experience showed.”

Maddi Weiland led Beaver with 14 points. Emma Pavelek added 11 for the Bobcats, who finished second to Neshannock in Section 1-3A of the WPIAL during the regular season.

Sedlock was wary of the Bobcats after Pavelek scored 31 points in Beaver’s 62-59 comeback victory over District 6 runner-up Penns Valley on Tuesday.

“They’re a good team, but they’re very young,” Sedlock said. “Our girls really wanted it. It all just started on the defensive end, and we kept it rolling.”

Central Cambria bolted to a 9-0 lead and was never threatened as the Red Devils were too quick for the Bobcats. Hayward scored just six first-half points and was shut out in the second quarter.

But Huston understandably was impressed with the 5-foot-5 point guard’s overall play.

“She’s not the best scorer we’ve played against, but she’s the best player we’ve played against this year,” he said. “Absolutely. One hundred percent. She’s a nice player. She’s tough.”

Central Cambria dominated the boards and connected on eight 3-point shots, six in the first half.

A pair of three-point plays in the third quarter by Hayward pushed Central Cambria’s lead to 54-29 as the Red Devils held the Bobcats to just one field goal in the third.

Central Cambria used a 17-4 run in the second quarter to pull away to a 39-22 lead at halftime.

The Red Devils shot 4 for 6 from 3-point range during the quarter, including three off the bench by Kiersten Szpala.

“Right from the tip,” Sedlock said, “we were all over it. We had a very strong start and we maintained that speed the whole game. Honestly, it’s heart and hustle. They just played with a lot of it tonight, and I’m very, very proud of them.”

CENTRAL CAMBRIA (69): Hayward 7 6-6 22, Bauer 7 1-2 15, Bezek 2 0-0 5, Bopp 2 4-6 8, Wess 1 2-2 5, Szpala 3 0-0 9, Stevens 1 0-0 3, Lockard 0 2-2 2, Kudlawic 0 0-0 0, Boyles 0 0-0 0. Totals — 23 15-18 69.

BEAVER (35): Monteiro 1 0-0 3, M. Weiland 4 3-4 14, Blum 1 0-0 2, Pavelek 2 7-9 11, List 1 2-4 5, Boyd 0 0-0 0, Pollack 0 0-0 0, K. Weiland 0 0-0 0, Samchuck 0 0-0 0, Sandoe 0 0-0 0, Selby 0 0-0 0. Totals — 9 12-17 35.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Central Cambria 17 22 15 15–69

Beaver 10 12 7 6–35

3-point goals: Central Cambria 8 (Szpala 3, Hayward 2, Bezek, Wess, Stevens); Beaver 5 (M. Weiland 3, Monteiro, List).

Records: Central Cambria (20-7); Beaver (19-6).

Officials: Sarah Fye, Ted Oppegard, Tony Rullo.

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