Paul Hall knew if his United girls’ basketball team started the game like it did in its only two losses this season, the Lions would be in big trouble.
United scored seven points combined in the first quarter of losses to Penns Manor and Bellwood-Antis.
The Lions turned that around in a rematch with Penns Manor on Friday night in an interdivision Heritage Conference game at home in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
United jumped on Penns Manor for a 16-5 lead in the first quarter and made clutch free throws in the fourth quarter to hold off the Comets, 56-47, and hand them their first loss of the season in a potential preview of the Heritage Conference championship game at the KCAC on Feb. 7.
The Lions (12-2), the Heritage South leaders at 7-0, were coming off a 61-52 loss to Bellwood-Antis on Wednesday in which they scored only three points in the first quarter. On Dec. 28 in Cambria Heights’ tournament, United scored only four points in the opening period of a 50-48 loss to Penns Manor (13-1), the North leader at 7-1.
“That first quarter,” Hall said, “we talked about Bellwood, and Penns Manor, too, and we knew we couldn’t go down 17-4. We couldn’t do that.”
United built on the lead in the second quarter and held a 15-point advantage at halftime, 30-15.
“Our defense,” Hall said, “when you hold a team like Penns Manor to 15 points at half, that means your defense is really stepping up.”
The Lions expected a run from Penns Manor, and they got one. The Comets outscored United 20-11 in the third quarter, chopping the deficit to six points at 41-35 going into the fourth quarter.
Penns Manor pulled as close as three points in the fourth quarter, but United made clutch free throws, going 9-for-10 in the final period. Lauren Donelson, a freshman, and Madison Duplin, a junior, each went 4-for-4 in the fourth quarter. They finished a combined 11-for-12, and United went 15-for-21 as a team.
“When you get down to that situation,” Hall said, “you’ve got to make those fouls shots, and the girls really came up big. For a freshman to go 6-for-6, that’s clutch to come in and hit those foul shots.”
Maizee Fry, a 5-foot-10 junior forward, led United with 18 points, with 14 coming in the second half. Duplin finished with 13 points, and Brook Murlin hit a pair of 3-point field goals and scored 10 points.
“We knew Penns Manor would make a run,” Hall said, “and in the third quarter they started chipping away. And then Fry started to come up big. She had four points in the first half, and the second half we started getting her the ball down inside.”
Megan Dumm fired in 21 points to lead Penns Manor. She hit three 3-pointers. Kassidy Smith scored 11 points.
“You wouldn’t believe the crowd there. It was crazy,” Hall said. “That’s the kind of game you like to coach. But I was nervous all day.”
Both teams play Tuesday. Penns Manor visits Homer-Center, and United travels to Marion Center.
HOMER-CENTER 56, PURCHASE LINE 47: Marlee Kochman led four Homer-Center players in double figures with 14 points, and the Wildcats outscored visiting Purchase Line in each of the first three quarters before making the most of their free throw opportunities in a Heritage Conference victory.
Homer-Center took a seven-point, 26-19 lead into the locker room and stretched its advantage to 13, 41-28, entering the final period. Purchase Line turned in its best quarter in the fourth, but the Red Dragons never narrowed the gap while forced to take multiple intentional fouls — nine penalties in total — in the final period.
The Wildcats, who finished 23-for-30 on foul shots, scored 13 of their 15 points in the fourth quarter at the free throw line.
Macy Sardone posted a double-double for Homer-Center with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Molly Kosmack had 13 points, nine rebounds and three block shots, Kennidy Page tallied 12 points and seven rebounds, and Kochman added four steals and four assists.
For Purchase Line, Emileigh Syster led the way with 14 points. Bethany Smith had 12 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double, Madison Scalese had nine points, and Abby Goss had eight points and seven rebounds.
Both teams play Tuesday. Homer-Center (9-3, 6-1) visits defending Heritage Conference champion Penns Manor, and Purchase Line (7-6, 3-4) travels to Saltsburg.
WEST SHAMOKIN 49, BLAIRSVILLE 46: West Shamokin protected the last of a 10-point lead and held off Blairsville in a Heritage Conference home game.
West Shamokin extended a nine-point lead after three quarters to 10 early in the fourth and then held on while Blairsville tried to rally. The Bobcats pulled within one with two minutes to go before the Wolves strung together some defensive stops while nursing a one-possession lead and made enough free throws down the stretch to hang on.
“Early on we did a really nice job of playing good defense and forcing tough shots and limiting their second-chance opportunities,” West Shamokin coach Frank Nagy said. “The fourth quarter they really started picking it up on the boards and generated second-chance opportunities. That’s where they were able to get back in it. It was a physical battle all game, and both teams worked extremely hard.”
West Shamokin (7-5, 4-2), which has three losses in one-possession games, finally got one to go its way.
“It was nice to see the girls bear down and get tough and get the last couple defensive rebounds when we needed them,” Nagy said. “Rebounds were going to determine it, and it was nice to see us finish it.
“It was definitely a stressful game. It was a battle from tip to end, and I told them, even though we let it slip, we finished it and did what we needed to do to get the win. The last time that happened was Penns Manor, and we let it slip and they hit a 3 to beat us. We lost three games this year by one possession and another by six points, so it’s nice to get a tight win, especially when they had the momentum.”
Lydia McIlwain and Lexie Young each scored 12 points in a balanced West Shamokin attack. Sophie Fusaro added nine points and Shelby Cessna chipped in eight. Young led the rebounding with nine, Cessna had six rebounds and four assists and Fusaro came up with four steals. Abby Oesterling handed out five assists to go with six points.
Julia Potts and Isabel Pynos scored 12 points apiece for Blairsville. Payton Potter and Lexi Risinger combined for 15.
West Shamokin plays host to Northern Cambria on Monday. Blairsville (3-6, 2-4) plays host to Northern Cambria on Tuesday.
MARION CENTER 65, LIGONIER VALLEY 36: Marion Center scored 21 points in each of the first two quarters and cruised past Ligonier Valley in a Heritage Conference game.
Four Marion Center players scored in double figures, and the Stingers won for the third time in four games. Shawna Cook led the way with 12, Nevada Armstrong had 11 and Laney Monroe and Madison Gatskie scored 10 apiece.
Haley Boyd made six 3-point field goals and finished with a game-high 24 points.
Both teams play Tuesday. Marion Center (4-9, 2-5) plays host to United, and Ligonier Valley (1-10, 0-7) welcomes host to West Shamokin on Tuesday.
CALVARY CHRISTIAN 30, CALVARY BAPTIST 18: Calvary Baptist lost a road game to Calvary Christian of Huntingdon.
Miranda Pounds scored seven points to lead Calvary Baptist (3-4). Allie Mumau and Sarah Covatto scored four apiece.
Calvary Baptist plays host to Cambria County Christian on Monday.