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Reward for Lady Panthers’ win: a trip to Sidman

CRESSON — In what opened as a low-scoring and defensive-heavy affair, Wednesday’s District 6 Class 3A girls basketball quarterfinal between No. 4 Penn Cambria and No. 5 Westmont Hilltop ended in dramatic fashion.

After the Lady Panthers surrendered a double-digit lead in the third quarter, Westmont Hilltop sparked a comeback rally to send the game to overtime.

Aided by five points in the extra frame from junior Marah Saleme, Penn Cambria outlasted the Hilltoppers and escaped with a narrow 44-42 victory to advance to the next round.

“That’s playoff basketball. I told the girls in the locker room that at the end of the night, all that matters is getting the (win),” Penn Cambria coach Keith Saleme said. “We persevered through a lot, and at the end of the night, I think we had a little more left in the tank than Westmont did. I’m proud of our girls.”

Both teams were locked in a stalemate in the opening stanza. It took nearly four minutes for either team to get on the board, and with two minutes remaining in the quarter, the Lady Panthers held just a 1-0 lead with a successful foul shot from Marah Saleme.

The game was tied at four after one quarter of play as neither team could find success offensively.

“We need to work on slowing it down, making better shots and work on our free throws,” said Penn Cambria junior Bailey O’Donnell, who netted 12. “We can do a lot better offensively. We have a lot to improve on.”

In an effort to spark its offensive production, Penn Cambria (8-6) deployed a full-court press.

Westmont Hilltop (7-8) evaded the pressure in the first quarter, but as the Lady Panthers trapped and shut down open passing lanes, their defense shifted into offense.

Scoring in transition, Penn Cambria went on a 10-5 run in the second quarter to take the lead into halftime.

“We know where we need to apply pressure to get the turnovers,” Marah Saleme said. “I think it gives everyone that extra kick of energy because we know what we can get off of it. Our press really keeps everyone going.”

The Lady Panthers extended the lead to 10 in the third quarter with buckets from Daijah Lilly and Emily Hite, but after exploiting the Panther pressure, Westmont Hilltop found open gaps.

Grace Gardill hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Olivia Berg connected twice from beyond the arc in the fourth to cut the deficit to one. A successful free throw conversion from Berg with 12 seconds remaining in regulation sent the game to overtime.

“We all knew we had to pick it up right then and there. We didn’t have time to make mistakes,” Marah Saleme said. “We stayed with it. We all picked each other up, and we knew we were going to have to give everything we had if we wanted to get the (win).”

Saleme (game-high 14 points) picked her team up in the extra stanza. She netted five points and set up another bucket to Lilly to give her team a three-point lead.

Bayle Kunsman, who missed her previous six free-throw attempts, completed a foul shot in the dying seconds to extend the lead to four.

Penn Cambria shut down the outside and sacrificed an easy layup at the buzzer to set the final score.

The Panthers now advance to the semifinals against No. 1 Forest Hills, which is a six-time defending champion between Class 3A (2015-16) and Class 4A (2017-20).

The Lady Rangers (17-0) defeated Marion Center Wednesday, 55-34.

In the only matchup between the two teams Feb. 22, Forest Hills dominated in a 71-34 rout.

WESTMONT HILLTOP (42): Gardill 4 1-2 11, Lavis 4 4-6 10, Buettner 4 0-3 0, Berg 2 1-2 7, Brawley 1 0-0 2, Faight 0 0-0 0, Krall 0 0-0 0. Totals — 15 7-15 42.

PENN CAMBRIA (44): Saleme 5 1-4 14, O’Donnell 4 3-4 12, Lilly 4 2-2 10, Kunsman 0 4-10 4, Hite 1 0-2 2, Rabatin 0 0-0 0, Galovich 0 0-0 0, Crossman 0 0-0 0, Della 0 0-0 0, Cornell 0 0-0 0. Totals — 14 10-22 44.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Westmont Hilltop 4 5 11 16 6 — 42

Penn Cambria 4 10 13 9 8 — 44

3-point goals: Westmont Hilltop 5 (Berg 2, Gardill 2, Buettner); Penn Cambria 4 (Saleme 3, O’Donnell).

Records: Westmont Hilltop (7-8); Penn Cambria (8-6).

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