The uncertainty of the high school basketball season continues, but things are getting clear in the Heritage Conference girls’ basketball race.
A season delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic and intermittently interrupted by winter weather is winding toward the postseason across a snowy landscape.
In Wednesday’s action, the top teams maintained their hold on the 1 through 4 spots. West Shamokin (11-1) rolled past Northern Cambria, 57-22; Homer-Center (11-2) knocked off Marion Center, 68-51; United (9-3) handled Purchase Line, 58-44; and Penns Manor (8-4) shut down Blairsville, 44-32.
Teams play 16 conference games, and the regular season was scheduled to end Monday.
On Tuesday, however, the conference decided to push its tournament back one day, moving the semifinals from Wednesday to today and the championship games from Friday to Saturday.
Tournament games will be played at the home of the highest seed.
There are big games on the horizon, and they are coming in short order. Among games on the remaining schedule, Penns Manor plays host to United on Friday; West Shamokin plays Purchase Line on Friday and has back-to-back games scheduled against United on Saturday and Monday; and Homer-Center faces Blairsville on Saturday and Purchase Line on Monday.
“I know we’re in a good spot,” West Shamokin coach Frank Nagy said. “I know we’re not locked up and we have to take care of one or two more to clinch the top spot … but I truly don’t believe the 1 through 4 seeds matter. It’s nice that 1-2 get the home court and 1 gets home court throughout, so that’s a nice perk, but if you talked to a lot of coaches you could mix up 1 through 4 and it doesn’t really much matter. All the games are going to be nail-biters. I think we’re in that type of situation.”
PENNS MANOR 44, BLAIRSVILLE 32: Penns Manor, which navigated its way through a 3-3 stretch after a 9-1 start, won its fourth straight game by shutting down a dangerous Blairsville team.
After a slow start, Penns Manor (12-4 overall) cooled off the Bobcats (4-8), who came in averaging 70.6 points over its past six games. After trailing 12-7 after the first quarter, Penns Manor held Blairsville to 20 points the rest of the way.
“Credit Blairsville for doing a great job bringing the intensity from the start,” Penns Manor coach Jason Miloser said. “One of the things we’re trying to work on is getting off to faster starts. I thought we were a little sluggish offensively, and defensively they were beating us to spots. After the first quarter we settled in and played a lot better basketball.”
The Comets held Lexi Risinger, the Bobcats’ leading scorer, to four points and shut her out in the second half. The senior forward entered the game 12 points shy of 1,000 in her career.
Miloser credited some early changes on defensive matchups for slowing down the Bobcats. Anna Peterman drew the assignment on Risinger after the switch.
“Anna just did a great job defending her,” Miloser said, “and as team we were helping out because she’s such a great player, and they have a number of players capable of going for 20 points on any given night.”
A more disciplined approach has been key to Penns Manor’s recent defensive dominance. The Comets held West Shamokin to 31 points last week in handing the Wolves their only loss of the season.
“Early on we were taking too many chances defensively,” Miloser said. “We talk to the girls all the time about playing good, disciplined defense as opposed to taking chances going for steals. Megan Dumm really took that to heart. She had eight steals, but she’s not taking chances and getting beat and getting into foul trouble or leaving teammates in tough positions.”
Kassidy Smith was the offensive catalyst for the Comets. She scored 12 of her game-high 16 points in the second half. Dumm scored 14, hitting two 3-point field goals in a 14-4 second quarter and one more in the fourth. Peterman, running the point, scored only two points but handed out five assists and collected seven rebounds.
Julia Potts scored 11 points for Blairsville and Abby Pynos had eight.
“We had a little bit of a slump,” Miloser said, “but we’re just making sure we’re doing all the things we need to do to make ourselves better. The girls do a great job in practice working on little things. A lot of small, little things translate to playing better basketball.”
Penns Manor plays host to United on Friday with third place, for the time being, on the line. Penns Manor is the defending conference champion.
“United is a team we saw at the KCAC last year (in the championship game), and we knew they were a great team coming into the season. And they’ve proven that. They beat us the first time around in a tough game. They have so many weapons so we have to play a compete game and have to get over these slow starts and play well for four quarters.”
Blairsville plays host to Marion Center on Friday.
UNITED 58, PURCHASE LINE 44: United rediscovered its defense and shot past Purchase Line in a Heritage Conference game.
United, 2-2 in its past four games, allowed 60 points in a loss to Homer-Center, 64 in a win over Blairsville, 74 in a loss to Marion Center and 52 in a win over Saltsburg. Against Purchase Line, the Lions surrendered only 19 in the first half, including six in the second quarter.
“Our defense finally stepped up and was a little better,” United coach Paul Hall said. “We got off to a slow start and then we shut them down and led by pretty much by 10 the whole way through.”
United held a 16-13 lead after the first quarter and limited the Red Dragons to three field goals in the second for an 11-point lead, 30-19, at halftime. The Lions stretched the lead to 17 going into the fourth quarter.
Maizee Fry, a senior who topped 1,000 points in her career in Saturday’s win over Saltsburg, scored 20 points — the 6-foot forward hit two 3-point field goals — to lead the Lions. Lauren Donelson continued her scoring surge with 15 points. Brook Murlin tossed in 12.
Bethany Smith scored 17 points for Purchase Line — the 5-10 junior also hit two 3s — and came up with eight rebounds and four steals. Madison Scalese, Abby Goss and Tara Leamer combined for 25 points. Scalese had four assists to go with nine points, and Goss had 10 boards to go with eight points.
United holds a one-game lead over Penns Manor for third place in the conference standings going into Friday’s game in Kenwood.
“We looked better tonight,” Hall said, “but we have to get better.”
Purchase Line plays at first-place West Shamokin on Friday in a must-win game.
HOMER-CENTER 68, MARION CENTER 51: Homer-Center bounced back from a non-conference loss against unbeaten Punxsutawney by jumping on Marion Center in a Heritage Conference game.
Homer-Center grabbed a 15-4 lead in the opening quarter, stretched an eight-point halftime lead to 16 going into the fourth quarter and then engaged in a 24-23 shootout in the last eight minutes.
Homer-Center’s top three scorers came through. Macy Sardone poured in 24 points, Marlee Kochman fired in 21, and Molly Kosmack posted a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds and blocked seven shots. Sardone had six rebounds, and Kochman had four steals.
Marion Center’s Alexa Ackerman hit four 3-point field goals and scored 18 points. Shawna Cook finished with nine points and 11 rebounds, and Jerzy Coble had eight points and eight boards. Kaelee Elkin also scored eight points.
Homer-Center (12-3, 11-2) plays host to Northern Cambria on Friday.
Marion Center (4-8 conference) has a busy stretch ahead. The Stingers play Friday at Blairsville and play two games Saturday, taking on Saltsburg and Purchase Line at home.
WEST SHAMOKIN 57, NORTHERN CAMBRIA 22: West Shamokin had to wait a few extra days to shake off its first loss after Monday’s game was postponed, and the Wolves moved to 13-1 overall and 11-1 in the Heritage Conference by cruising past winless Northern Cambria.
West Shamokin, coming off a loss to Penns Manor, took control during a 21-4 first quarter against Northern Cambria (0-11).
Sophie Fusaro hit six 3-point field goals for a game-high 18 points. Lily Jordan scored 14 points and posted a double-double with 12 rebounds. Abbie Oesterling handed out six assists and came up with eight steals to go with eight points. Fusaro also had four assists, and Ally Schultheis chipped in three. All 11 players registered statistics for the Wolves, who made 10 3-point field goals after making only one in a 31-point performance against Penns Manor.
“Obviously, Penns Manor forced us into the game we played, but we only had one 3-pointer, which is very uncharacteristic of our team,” West Shamokin coach Frank Nagy said. “For us to score 31 and have one 3-pointer is something I’m not thrilled about. Then we go out to Northern and knock down 10 3-pointers, and they were good looks, and hopefully that momentum carries over.”
Ella Miller scored 15 points for Northern Cambria.
“Northern Cambria is much improved since the first time were played them,” Nagy said. “Miller had a nice game for them and was attacking the hoop. I thought they competed well and did some things well, but it was nice to see out girls bounce back.”
West Shamokin plays host to Marion Center this evening in the first game of a girls-boys doubleheader. Northern Cambria plays host to Homer-Center on Friday in a varsity-only game.
APOLLO-RIDGE 63, JEANNETTE 22: Apollo-Ridge bolted to a 20-5 lead and rolled over winless Jeannette in a WPIAL Class 2A Section 4 game.
Sophia Yard, a 5-foot-5 freshman, led the Vikings in scoring with 18 points. Madi Marks, a senior, scored 14 and sophomore Brinley Toland had 11. Sydney McCray and Morgan Gamble combined for 15.
Oceana Sirnic led Jeannette (0-15) with 12 points.
Apollo-Ridge (5-4, 5-2 section) plays at Greensburg Central Catholic this eveing.
YOUGH 47, LIGONIER VALLEY 27: Ligonier Valley held a lead after the first quarter, but the Rams managed only 13 points the rest of the way in a WPIAL Class 4A Section 3 game.
Ligonier Valley (0-10) led 14-9 after the first quarter, but Yough (3-9) outscored the Rams 18-4 in the second and took a 27-8 lead into halftime. Ligonier Valley managed only nine points in the second half.
Haley Boyd scored 16 points and had four steals for Ligonier Valley. Lizzy Crissman had six rebounds and four blocked shots.
Yough’s Mikhala Chewney scored 15 points.
Ligonier Valley plays host to Southmoreland on Monday.