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Portage gets revenge

PORTAGE — Wednesday was a night of retribution for the Portage girls basketball team.

After being knocked out of the District 6-8-9 Class 5A playoffs by Obama Academy last season, the No. 2 Lady Mustangs waited an entire year to get a second shot at the Golden Eagles.

Following a brief adjustment to a new defensive scheme, Portage held tight at the perimeter and clogged the inside as it claimed a 56-45 semifinal victory to advance to the district title game.

“I think after losing last year’s game, we were even more motivated to come back and beat them this year,” said Portage sophomore Lauren Shaffer, who posted 10 points. “We knew we were better than them, we just didn’t play like it. This year, I think we came back with more enthusiasm. We were ready to play.”

Portage coach Lance Hudak developed a strong scouting report of the Eagles after collecting film earlier this season.

Obama Academy (10-13), which doesn’t boast a strong perimeter game, used its length to dribble and drive to the inside of the paint. In response, Portage (22-3) held its ground as it deployed a 2-3 zone coverage in order to clog up the inside.

“They’re big. They have size and athleticism, especially in the paint,” Portage coach Lance Hudak said of Obama Academy. “I knew they would cause damage inside. Our game plan was to try to limit that damage as much as possible.”

The 2-3 system, however, was fresh to the Mustang arsenal. Aside from inbounds, Portage hadn’t deployed that defensive scheme all season.

Those growing pains in adapting to the new system gave Obama Academy its chances early. The Eagles endured an 8-2 run late in the first half, and a Maddy Hudak trey was Portage’s saving grace from it being a one-possesion game.

“That was something we’ve never done other than on an inbound,” coach Hudak said of the new defensive scheme. “I didn’t see much in (Obama’s) perimeter shooting in my scouting. (Obama’s plan) was all about getting the entrance pass to the bigs and going with that. So we really planted in, and I told our girls to play bigger than they were. Our girls followed it to script.”

While they took their lumps, the Mustangs locked it up and held Obama Academy to only six points in the final five minutes of the game.

With the defense taking its time to get acquainted to the new system, the offense slowly had to find its groove too.

Portage boasted an up-tempo pressure defense, but once it forced the turnover or grabbed the steal, it couldn’t seem to rein it in and slow down the pace of the game.

Several shots just weren’t falling, and the Mustangs were unable to find the open look they wanted.

“We had to slow things down a little bit,” Portage senior Emma Kissell said. “You get a steal and get all this enthusiasm, and you think in your mind to just take it to the hoop and score. But (Hudak) tells us to pull it out and slow it down. Once we did that, the shots started falling.”

An opportunity to gain some retribution on offense opened up late in the third with Obama Academy in foul trouble.

The Eagles were without three starters in the third due to foul trouble, and another exited the game with an injury.

With Obama having only one of its starting five in the lineup, the Mustangs quickly got to work.

Shaffer forced a pair of turnovers to keep the ball in Portage’s hands, and with Obama sending several bench players out onto the court, the Mustangs used their talent and experience to their advantage.

Kara Dividock hit a trio of treys in the third, and another 3-pointer courtesy of Abbi Riskus gave the Mustangs a 40-27 lead as the final stanza dawned.

“Our press really helped,” Shaffer said. “(Obama) could not handle our press at all.”

Obama was forced to pay for its fouls late in the game.

The Mustangs held the double bonus midway through the fourth quarter and converted on 8-of-12 attempts from the charity stripe.

Portage earned its second state playoff berth in three seasons.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Hudak said. “We just extended our season two and a half weeks — at least. We have a big game coming up on Saturday, and we want to give them a better game than we did last time we played them. But we’re so happy to be here.”

The Mustangs will battle for the District 6-8-9 Class 5A championship Saturday at Mount Aloysius College against No. 1 Hollidaysburg.

The Lady Tigers defeated Portage Jan. 25 in the only matchup this season between the two, 60-48.

“I can’t wait to play on Saturday,” Kissell said. “We’re going to be ready.”

Tip-off is at noon.

PORTAGE (56): Dividock 4 7-9 18, Riskus 3 7-12 14, Shaffer 3 4-7 10, Hudak 2 0-0 5, Kissell 2 0-0 4, Wozniak 2 0-0 4, Giordano 0 1-2 1, Sease 0 0-0 0. Swank 0 0-0 0, Bartoletti 0 0-0 0, Alexander 0 0-0 0. Totals — 16 19-30 56.

OBAMA ACADEMY (45): S. Perkins 6 0-1 12, J. Perkins 6 0-0 12, Creighton 2 3-4 7, Levitt 2 0-0 5, Page 2 0-0 4, Woodruff 1 1-2 3, Bland 1 0-0 2, Jackson 0 0-0 0, Simpson 0 0-0 0. Totals — 20 4-7 45.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Obama Academy 4 12 17 12 — 45

Portage 10 12 20 14 — 56

3-point goals: Portage (Dividock 3, Riskus, Hudak); Obama 1 (Levitt).

Records: Portage (22-3); Obama Academy (10-13).

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