HOMER CITY — Blairsville played the better game, and the Bobcats did so longer. For doing that Friday night, they get the right to carry their season on longer.
Blairsville continued playing the tough defense it played in its previous game and bounced back from that loss, defeating Heritage Conference foe Marion Center, 48-32, in the District 6 Class AA consolation game at the HomerDome to earn a spot in the state playoffs.
[PHOTO: Chelsey Koren towered over the defense and put up a shot during Blairsville's victory over Marion Center in the District 6 Class AA girls' consolation game Friday night at the HomerDome. (Michael Walker/Gazette)]
The Bobcats (23-2) advanced to the PIAA tournament as the third-place team out of District 6. They will face Seton-LaSalle, the WPIAL champion, in the first round Friday at a site and time to be determined. Seton-LaSalle beat Burrell, 55-34, in the WPIAL championship game Friday evening.
Facing Marion Center (20-6) for the third time this season, Blairsville’s stifling defense just held up longer, and the Heritage Conference champion Bobcats pulled away after leading just 16-15 at halftime.
“That’s been our thing the whole year long,” Blairsville coach Ralph McGinnis said. “We’ve been in locker rooms down 10 or even a couple points up. We get stronger and stronger as the game goes on. Our conditioning is just ahead of a lot of teams. As they’re getting a step down, we’re running a little faster, and that really showed there at the end.”
In the second half, Blairsville committed just two turnovers, both late and inconsequential. The Bobcats shot 11 of 22 (50 percent) after the break and limited Marion Center to 7 of 24 (29.2 percent).
“They got the momentum going and we just really didn’t get back into the flow of things, and they took it to us,” Marion Center coach Jan Brocious said. “Good teams will do that.”
“(The key) was just to make smart passes and really calm down on offense,” Blairsville point guard Laurel O’Barto said, “not taking any stupid shots and really calming it down, and we did it.”
O’Barto led the Bobcats with 16 points and Chelsey Koren scored 11. Two nights after Blairsville’s top two scorers were the only players to score in a 38-35 loss to Bellwood-Antis, the Bobcats got 21 points from the rest of the lineup. Nicole Boyer scored eight points, Mikala Misleany had seven, and Kia Clayton added six.
“Laurel, Chelsey and Nicole are always going to be the ones that are the most guarded, so it’s important for us to be able to step up and help them out,” Clayton said.
“We were definitely alarmed the other night, but I understand it, too,” McGinnis said. “As young as Kia (a junior) and Mikala (a sophomore) are, this is their first year in varsity, and they’re thrown into the biggest spectacle we have in Western Pa., the District 6 finals and state playoffs.
“Their contributions were unbelievable. … We talked to the girls and said, ‘You’ve got to be gamers. You’ve got to go. You’ve got to fire the ball, make them respect you.’ And they got their respect tonight.”
It started with Boyer’s 3-pointer from the corner early in the third quarter. Blairsville’s third-leading scorer, Boyer got back to form, finishing with two 3s and a 2-for-2 mark at the free throw line.
“That was big,” McGinnis said. “We set it up, it was the perfect timing and it brought her back. Her defense, everything stepped up. That play was the turning key of the game.”
“We were playing her whether she had a bad game (Tuesday) or not,” Brocious said. “We were playing the three girls who are their shooters. … Good shooters are able to shoot and make it even when there’s someone in their face, too. We knew that and we told them they’re going to make good plays and we just have to adjust and come back. We just didn’t get those couple stops and get any momentum going back our way.”
One of four seniors on the Marion Center roster, 5-foot-11 forward Chantel Glasser led the team with 17 points. She went head-to-head with the 5-11 junior Koren, and the battle of two of the best players in the area ended more or less even.
“Those two put on a show,” McGinnis said. “You’ve got to let them play it out. They’re the best two, they’re going to go at it. It’s fun to watch as long as we’re up. But Chantel’s an unbelievable post player. She’s smooth and so is Chelsey, so it’s fun to watch them both go at it.”
The Stingers finished the season with exactly 20 wins.
“I’ll take that anytime,” Brocious said. “I don’t have girls going on to play college ball. I have kids that have dedicated themselves just because they love the sport. They love Marion Center, and I love each one of them, and they’ve done an excellent job representing us and they’re great kids. More importantly, they’re going to do great things in life.”
Blairsville, last year’s district champion, expected to get to the state playoffs. After a hiccup, the Bobcats are moving on.
“We were really bummed that we couldn’t go for another district title, but states is still awesome” O’Barto said. “You’ve just got to forget about the last one and look ahead to the next one, and that’s what we did.”