It didn’t take long for things to get really hot in the Heritage Conference girls’ basketball ranks.
On Tuesday, at the start of the first full week of action for most teams in a scholastic winter sports season delayed by COVID-19, Homer-Center knocked off defending championship Penns Manor, 50-49, when Marlee Kochman made two free throws with no time on the clock at the Homer-Dome.
Meanwhile, West Shamokin and Purchase Line rallied for wins on the road. West Shamokin overtook and held off Blairsville, 61-57, and the Red Dragons pulled out a 53-45 win at Saltsburg.
It was the Wildcats, though, who scored the biggest win of the night in a game that was tight throughout.
“It feels pretty good, and I’m just proud of the girls,” Homer-Center coach Tom Lasher said. “Penns Manor has a good team, and you can’t take anything away from them, and we’ve got to go up there and play yet.”
Penns Manor (3-1) trailed by seven points, 48-41, with 2:30 to play in the game, but Homer-Center (2-0) committed four straight turnovers, and the Comets used the first three to pull into a 49-48 lead when Anna Peterman scored inside the final minute.
The Comets maintained that lead after a Homer-Center missed shot and had the chance to extend it but came up empty at the free throw line with only 8.6 seconds to go. Molly Kosmack secured the rebound for Homer-Center, which called a timeout with only 5.4 seconds to go.
Having to go the length of the court, the Wildcats got the ball to Kochman, who bolted upcourt and launched a runner that was partially block. A whistle and the clock went off almost in unison, and the resulting foul sent Kochman to the free throw line.
With both teams watching from the sideline, Kochman stood alone at the line, the clock showing all zeros, and buried both free throws to give Homer-Center the victory.
Kochman, a 5-foot-7 junior, uncharacteristically scored only four points, all from the line, but Lasher said, “It doesn’t show in the scoring, but she is playing very well.”
The winning free throws finished off an 8-for-8 half for the Wildcats, who were 13-for-14 overall. Penns Manor was 10-for-14, with two straight misses coming on separate occasions late when it held the lead.
“We shot 40 percent Saturday (at Saltsburg) and we didn’t even shoot them at practice (Monday),” Lasher said, “so maybe that’s what we need to do,”
Kosmack, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who secured her 17th rebound after Penns Manor’s last miss at the line, scored 13 points for a double-double.
“She played hard and she didn’t get any easy points,” Lasher said. “She worked for everything she got tonight, and she was just really good on the boards.”
Macy Sardone, a 5-7 sophomore, finished with 13 points. Ayannah Elliott, a junior, chipped in 10 points, and freshman Alaina Fabin scored the other six, all in the first half.
“The girls just played great defense and hustled,” Lasher said. “We were up and down the floor, and so was Penns Manor, and it’s just that tonight we were one points better.”
Penns Manor junior Megan Dumm finished with a game-high 18 points. She made three 3-pointers and was 5-for-6 from the line.
Homer-Center held Kassidy Smith and Peterman to a combined 12 points. Deja Gillo chipped in nine for the Comets. Kate Hnatko added eight.
The Wildcats, a conference semifinalist last year, visits United, last year’s runner-up, on Thursday for the Lions’ season opener. They play host to the other semifinalists, West Shamokin, on Monday.
“We’re getting the best teams in the conference bang bang bang,” Lasher said.
Penns Manor plays at Purchase Line on Thursday.
WEST SHAMOKIN 61, BLAIRSVILLE 57: West Shamokin erased a four-point halftime deficit early in the third quarter, survived 27 points from Blairsville’s Julia Potts and held off the Bobcats in their opener.
Trailing 28-24 at halftime, the Wolves (3-0) held a 20-11 advantage in the third quarter and took a five-point lead, 44-39, lead into the fourth.
“Blairsville worked their tails off,” West Shamokin coach Frank Nagy said. “They came out and got after us, worked hard on the boards and were scrappy. They came out ready to roll, and I felt we came out flat. We weren’t matching their intensity, and that’s the most frustrating thing because it’s something we focus on and have done a nice job with previously. We weren’t executing and battling with them on the boards and we weren’t showing the toughness I know we have. That’s the thing we really needed to right at halftime.”
The Wolves did. Sophie Fusaro, Abby Oesterling and Lydia McIlwain hit 3-pointers during the third-quarter outburst. Fusaro scored 18 points and had seven assists, Oesterling had 13 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals, and McIlwain contributed eight points, seven rebounds, four assists and five steals. The trio accounted for 15 points in the third quarter.
“I’m just really proud of the girls for the third quarter we played and went from a four-point deficit to a five-point lead. And that was done with defensive intensity and we started to push the ball and the run the floor and got some easy looks and were looking to drive and get into the paint against their zone, and we did a lot better job executing and energy-wise.”
West Shamokin’s Lily Jordan, a 5-foot-7 freshman, continued to impress early in her varsity career. She finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and four steals. She was only 5-for-12 from the line but redeemed herself by making five of her last seven. The Wolves finished only 12-for-27 from the line, and Blairsville was 10-for-17.
Jordan is helping to cover for the loss of senior standout Lexie Young to an ankle injury.
“I expect her to rapidly continue to improve,” Nagy said. “She’s already doing well right now after her second varsity game. Coming from eighth-grade basketball and the shortened preseason, she gets in there with little experience and is learning on the fly. It’s going to be exciting to see at midseason when she’s more comfortable.”
Potts made 13 field goals en route to her game-high total. She also came up with five steals. Lexi Risinger and Abbie Pynos each collected seven rebounds.
Blairsville plays host to United on Monday. West Shamokin plays host to Saltsburg on Thursday.
PURCHASE LINE 53, SALTSBURG 45: Purchase Line faced a halftime deficit at Saltsburg before rallying in the third quarter.
Saltsburg (0-3) held a 25-21 lead at halftime, but Purchase Line surged ahead during a 16-11 third quarter and held a 16-9 advantage in the fourth.
Maddie Scalese led the Red Dragons with 17 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. Abby Misko turned in 11 points and nine rebounds, and Tara Leamer had eight points and six boards. Abby Goss scored eight points to go with 17 boards. Standout forward Bethany Smith was held scoreless in the first half and finished with four points.
Saltsburg, which continues to play without standout Makenzie Simpson, got 17 points from Eden Plowman and 14 from Abbie Dickie.
The Trojans didn’t help themselves at the free throw line, making only 14 of 26 attempts. Purchase Line was 5-for-7.
Purchase Line plays host to Penns Manor on Thursday. Saltsburg welcomes Northern Cambria on Monday.