HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS' BASKETBALL PLAYOFFS: Homer-Center victorious in return to playoffs
February 18, 2014 10:29 AM
by ELI NELLIS

ALTOONA — Homer-Center just wanted to get the heck out of Altoona Field House with a playoff win.

The Wildcats played very well at times, but struggled in the fourth quarter before regaining their composure and holding on for a 57-47 victory over Juniata Valley in a District 6 Class A first-round girls’ basketball game Monday evening.

Homer-Center (11-12) led by as many as 18 but saw its advantage cut to as few as six points in the fourth quarter. Whatever the case, it was a significant accomplishment for a group low on playoff experience.

“As long as we got the ‘W,’ I don’t care how we got it,” Homer-Center coach Tom Lasher said. “I have 10 freshmen and three sophomores out of 17 (players), and I wanted them to experience this. Fortunately, we got a positive experience.”

The No. 9-seeded Wildcats advance to face top-seeded Portage in the quarterfinals at a site, date and time to be determined.

Sydney Horel, Homer-Center’s lone senior, scored a game-high 21 points, including 13 in the third quarter. After dealing with foul trouble in the first half, the 6-foot-1 forward scored 11 straight points for the Wildcats when their lead ballooned to 43-25 with 4:09 left in the third.

“I got two cheap fouls in the first quarter and I knew I wasn’t going to play the whole second, so I knew I had to come out in the third with all I had to help out,” Horel said.

“I had to work harder than I usually have to, to get open off all those girls, and they had to make better passes to me. It worked out perfect the way they did it.”

Homer-Center turned the ball over 23 times, including 10 times in the fourth quarter. No. 9-seeded Juniata Valley (11-11) hit the Wildcats with a press defense late, and the Hornets crept within 53-47 with two minutes left in the game.

“They were pressuring and double-teaming at half court, and we didn’t work it well enough to get the ball to the open player,” Lasher said. “And give Juniata credit: They put good pressure on us and forced us into some errors.

“We’re going to have to work on handling the pressure. When you start playing playoff teams, you’d better be able to handle it, or you won’t be in the playoffs very long.”

Julia Buggey scored 15 points — she had 11 in the second quarter — and Kristina Albright totaled 11 for the Wildcats.

Homer-Center missed the playoffs last year. The Wildcats were the district runner-up in 2011 and ’12, but that came mostly with players who have since graduated.

Horel is the exception. She started as a freshman on the 2011 team that ended up in the final four of the state.

Now she’s leading a young group into its first postseason.

“They ask a lot of questions about what playoffs are like,” she said. “Some of them have been through that, but I know how it is. It’s one (loss) and you’re done. I just talked to them the whole time: ‘You can’t stop, you’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to keep pushing yourself, because once you’re done, you’re done. You don’t have another chance to come back.’ I’ve been through this already so many times, so it’s good for them to the experience I did.”

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