Bezek, Lady Devils head to conference final
PATTON — In mid-January, the Central Cambria girls basketball team was on the outside of the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference playoff bubble looking in.
After winning nine of their last 10 to close out the regular season, the Lady Devils catapulted into the postseason as the No. 3 seed and earned a date with Cambria Heights Thursday night in the LHAC playoffs.
Led by a 23-point performance from senior Cassidy Bezek, Central Cambria claimed the upset, 60-55, to earn a trip to the conference finals against Bishop Guilfoyle this Saturday.
“This is incredible. We’re so happy that we can do this for our program,” Bezek said. “Coming back from that loss last year against Penn Cambria, that’s never something you want to experience twice. We wanted to play good defense and not let anything like that ever happen again.”
Last season, Central Cambria was upset in the final seconds of the semifinal round with a buzzer-beating trey from Penn Cambria’s Makalyn Clapper.
Late in this year’s game, it appeared as though things were slowly slipping away again.
The Red Devils (16-7) led by 12 midway through the third, highlighted by a personal 7-0 run from Bezek, but Heights (20-3) clawed its way back.
A trey from Emily Henry cut the deficit to five, and a bucket from Abby Lobick — the 1,000th of her career-brought Heights within two with just over two minutes left to play.
“I never considered it even a possibility for myself,” said Lobick, who joins Chloe Weakland as the second Lady Highlander to net her 1,000th point this season.
“I was always just focused on my role on the team, and that was never really to score. I really liked giving good assists, but I think it’s just because of the amazing teammates and coaches that I’ve had over the years. They brought me to where I am right now.”
Unfortunately for the Highlanders, the Red Devils were able to strike right back.
As Lobick netted point No. 1,000, all five Highlanders on the court joined together to celebrate.
The buzzer did not sound and play resumed, however, and the Red Devils took the ball down the court uncontested to increase the lead back to four.
“Even if (Cambria Heights went on a run), we didn’t get down on ourselves,” Central Cambria senior Kiersten Szpala said. “We kept our heads in it the entire game.”
From start to finish, Bezek and Liz Bopp (14 points) wreaked havoc from inside the paint.
With Henry nursing a wrist injury suffered early in the game, the Red Devils were able to power their way to the hoop and crashed the boards to favorable results.
Cambria Heights was able to gain drives to the inside, but numerous blocks from all five Red Devils on the court gave Heights fits.
“I think that Central Cambria played the best game this year,” Cambria Heights coach Amber Fees said. “I think they played really hard, and I think we played passive. We were slow tonight. I don’t know if it’s because we just played yesterday or what the reason be, but (Central Cambra) deserved this win.”
Central Cambria wasn’t shy to play physical either.
Setting up with a triangle-and-two defensive scheme, the Red Devils focused on limiting open shots and opportunities from Heights stars Chloe and Kirsten Weakland.
“The physical nature of the game is what we live for,” Bezek said. “Everyday in practice, we come out and rough each other up, because we know that’s what happens in games. Not everything goes your way. Making sure you keep your head on straight and doing what you can when you can — that’s the most important part of the game.”
Central Cambria moves on to the LHAC final this Saturday against No. 4 Bishop Guilfoyle.
The game begins at 6 p.m. at Bishop Carroll High School.
“We wanted to win. We had the mentality to win, and we really came together,” Abby Walwro said. “This is when it counts. We’ve grown such a good bond together, and it’s shown.”
CENTRAL CAMBRIA (60): Bezek 9 3-3 23, Bopp 6 1-3 14, Kudlawiec 3 0-0 7, Szpala 3 0-1 7, Walwro 2 3-6 7, Stevens 1 0-0 2, Woods 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 7-14 60.
CAMBRIA HEIGHTS (55): C. Weakland 5 5-6 17, Henry 5 2-3 14, Snedden 3 2-4 9, K. Weakland 2 4-4 8, Lobick 3 0-0 7, Jones 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 11-17 55.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Central Cambria 12 17 18 13–60
Cambria Heights 8 17 14 16–55
3-point field goals: Cambria Heights 6 (C. Weakland 2, Henry 2, Lobick, Snedden); Central Cambria 5 (Bezek 2, Bopp, Szpala, Walwro).
Records: Central Cambria (16-7); Cambria Heights (20-3).