Portage caps mission
CRESSON — Lance Hudak has been chasing a district title at Portage for more than two decades.
There were dark days, close calls and what ifs over that time, but Saturday was finally the Lady Mustangs’ day.
Playing three classifications higher than the size of its school, Portage upset top-seeded Hollidaysburg, 75-68, to win the District 6-8-9 Class 5A title at Mount Aloysius College. It was the first district title in the program’s history.
“I have been coaching here 21 years, 18 as the head coach, and when I took over this program, if we weren’t the worst team in District 6, we could have been in the entire state,” Hudak said. “I think it took nine years to get our first winning record. Since then, we’ve had winning records every year and been so close.”
The closest Portage had come to a title was in 2014. The Lady Mustangs were playing Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic for the second year in a row and were in position to win a title before a long 3-pointer at the buzzer left Hudak in tears.
“The second BG game, Macy Adams hit a 35-footer right in front of their bench,” Hudak said. “My daughters hid and broke every DVD I had of that game, because every time I watched it I would cry. This is unbelievable. We have worked so hard on this program from the elementary program up to get here.
“There have been so many good coaches, parents and volunteers at every level. You don’t win a district championship starting to play at the varsity level. This is a product of our program from preschool up.”
Senior captains Kara Dividock and Abbi Riskus had a lot to do with the victory Saturday.
Dividock drained a pair of deep rainbow 3-pointers late in the third quarter to help Portage extend its lead from three to seven.
The Lady Mustangs maintained that lead for most of the fourth quarter despite finishing the game 17-of-41 from the free throw line.
“I always yell at the girls to make their foul shots,” Hudak said. “My assistant coaches tell me, ‘Coach, they aren’t trying to miss,’ and I’m always like, but… That’s been our season. If we shoot 60 percent today, we probably win by 20 or more. It’s how we’ve played all year long. For whatever reason we don’t do well 15 feet from the hoop with no one defending it.”
Riskus managed to make seven free throws and led Portage with 20 points.
“Abbi is a very skilled player,” Hudak said. “Her handle is as good as anybody. She has great floor sense, and she’s a senior captain. We want the ball in our senior captain’s hands late in the game.”
Hollidaysburg had four players — Allison Hileman, who returned from injury, Morgan O’Neill, Sydney Lear and Alyssa Bell — foul out.
“I don’t think I have been part of a game like that,” Hollidaysburg coach Deanna Jubeck said. “I’m at a loss of words on that. I have never been in a game where four of our kids fouled out, but that’s not on anyone but ourselves. We should have adjusted early, and we didn’t, so that’s on us for not making that adjustment.”
Portage wasn’t without foul trouble of its own. Dividock fouled out with 3:24 to play in the fourth quarter, and Emma Kissell played most of the second half with four fouls.
“This is surreal,” Dividock said. “I have been working since kindergarten for this moment. I’ve been dreaming about this day. I’m just so happy. I don’t have the words.”
With all the foul trouble, some unlikely faces stepped up.
Freshman Ari Wozniak, whose sister Lexi helped Portage to the PIAA Class 1A semifinals in 2015, drained three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points off the bench.
“I remember being super excited for that team, and now I’m kind of in her shoes,” Wozniak said. “I always think of her out there shooting and want to do what she did, so to do what I did today felt pretty good.”
Both teams advance to the state playoffs. Portage will play the third-place finisher from the WPIAL while Hollidaysburg will take on the District 10 runner-up.
The Lady Tigers received a game-high 28 points from sophomore Marin Miller and got 12 points each from Hileman and Ali Hatajik. Hatajik also added 19 rebounds.
“This is a tough one,” Jubeck said. “It’s tough to swallow, but we’re still alive and have an opportunity ahead of us. The girls will be prepared.”
PORTAGE (75): Dividock 3 1-2 10, Riskus 6 7-15 20, Shaffer 6 2-4 15, Kissell 1 0-2 2, Sossong 3 1-3 7, Hudak 1 6-14 8, Wozniak 4 0-1 11, Swank 1 0-0 2, Sease 0 0-0 0, Bartoletti 0 0-0 0, Alexander 0 0-0 0. Totals — 25 17-41 75.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (68): O’Neill 3 0-0 8, Bell 2 0-0 4, Miller 8 11-11 28, Hatajik 3 6-9 12, S. Lear 0 2-2 2, Hileman 5 0-0 12, Stitt 0 0-0 0, Merriman 1 0-0 2, Figard 0 0-0 0. Totals — 22 19-22 68.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Portage 17 14 20 24 — 75
Hollidaysburg 15 12 16 25 — 68
3-point goals: Portage 8 (Dividock 3, Wozniak 3, Riskus, Shaffer); Hollidaysburg 5 (Hileman 2, O’Neill 2, Miller).
Records: Portage (23-3); Hollidaysburg (17-7).
Officials: Tyler Fink, Pam Grimminger, Brad Martz.