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Young Blue Devils are finding their own identity

CLAYSBURG — The Bellwood-Antis High School girls basketball program has won two PIAA Class 2A state championships over the past three seasons, and may have won a third straight last March had not the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the postseason.

But the vast majority of the players largely responsible for the Lady Blue Devils’ immense recent success — including NCAA Division I signees Alli Campbell and Sakeria Haralson — are no longer wearing Bellwood uniforms, and the program is facing a rebuilding challenge this season.

It’s a process that will take awhile to fully develop, but so far, veteran Bellwood coach Jim Swaney likes what he sees of this year’s very young team.

Bellwood went on the road Thursday night and scored a 50-44 Inter-County Conference North Division victory over Claysburg-Kimmel in a game in which the Lady Blue Devils bent but never broke in the end.

“This was a nice win,” Swaney said, after watching his team improve to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the conference division. “As young as we are, any win is a good win.”

Swaney said that what his team lacks in game experience, it compensates for in hustle, enthusiasm, and heart.

“We’re young — even our first five players don’t have any varsity experience — but what I like about these kids is that they come in every day, they play hard, they want to learn, and they want to win,” Swaney said. “They’re a fun bunch to be around.”

The kind of game that unfolded at the Claysburg-Kimmel High School gymnasium will do wonders for the confidence of the unseasoned Bellwood team, which broke out to a 27-14 halftime lead before watching Claysburg (3-2, 0-1) whittle the deficit to two points, 29-27 midway through the third quarter.

Bellwood then pulled back away with a 9-3 run to take a 38-30 lead after three quarters. Sophomore guard Chelsea McCaulsky hit a big 3-pointer from the top of the circle, and junior Jaidyn McCracken scored a pair of free throws, to give Bellwood a 34-27 edge.

After junior Bailey Garver’s 3-pointer from the top of the circle pulled Claysburg to within 34-30, sophomore forward Lydia Worthing responded with a pair of close-range field goals to give Bellwood the 38-30 lead entering the fourth quarter.

Worthing scored 16 points to tie Garver for game-scoring honors, and McCaulsky added 13.

“She hit a huge 3 there,” Swaney said of McCaulsky. “She’s a gamer. And I thought Lydia Worthing did a fantastic job in the post tonight. She was very tough inside.”

McCaulsky felt that the Lady Blue Devils played with cohesiveness and fight.

“We never gave up through the whole game, and I think that was a big plus for us,” McCaulsky said. “I think we just need to stay together as a team. The more that we stay together, the better that we play.

“We’re a young team, but we’re a very hard-working and dedicated team,” McCaulsky added.

Worthing grabbed seven rebounds to go with her 16 points.

“I thought we played pretty hard,” Worthing said. “It was a good win, but it was too close for comfort.”

Indeed, Claysburg never went away, even after falling behind by as many as 14 points, 46-32, midway through the fourth quarter.

Junior Rebekah Claar scored 11 points for Claysburg, including a putback with 21 seconds left that capped a six-point C-K surge and pulled the Lady Bulldogs to within four points, 48-44.

But that’s the closest that C-K could get, as McCaulsky was fouled with 14 seconds left and hit both shots to set the 50-44 final score.

“We started to come back in the second half, but we couldn’t get the big defensive stop and the big bucket to pull ahead,” Claysburg-Kimmel coach Jess Veverka said.

“We started off the game pretty sluggish, and we weren’t making our shots in the first half,” Veverka said of her team, which converted just five of 30 floor shots in the first half. “In the second half, we stepped it up and picked up our intensity, but when you dig yourself as a big a hole as we did in the first half, it’s hard to climb out of it.”

Junior Jaidyn McCracken of Bellwood and junior Kaylee Haney of Claysburg both had a game-high nine rebounds.

BELLWOOD-ANTIS (50): McCaulsky 4 2-2 13, McCracken 2 2-2 7, Shuke 0 0-0 0, Partner 3 1-2 9, Worthing 8 0-0 16, Hammond 2 0-0 5, Robison 0 0-0 0, Woomer 0 0-0 0. Totals – 19 5-6 50.

CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (46): Carson 3 0-0 6, Claar 4 3-8 11, Garver 7 0-0 16, Haney 0 0-2 0, Callender 3 2-4 8, Rinninger 1 0-0 3. Totals – 18 5-14 44.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Bellwood-Antis 13 14 11 12 — 50

Claysburg-Kimmel 8 6 16 14– 44

3-point goals: Bellwood-Antis 7 (McCaulsky 3, Partner 2, McCracken, Hammond); Claysburg-Kimmel 3 (Garver 2, Rinninger).

JV: B-A, 49-18. High scorers–Lainey Quick, BA, 16; Emma Gill, Sarah Helsel, CK, 8 apiece.

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