Juniata Valley had its share of troubles trying to find an answer to the inside play of West Middlesex’s Makennah White during Tuesday evening’s PIAA Girls’ Class 2A second round contest in Punxsutawney.
White scored seven of her game-high 19 points in a pivotal third-quarter to bring the District 10 champion Big Reds back from a halftime deficit to a four-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. The District Six runner-up Green Hornets, who fell behind by as many as eight points in the final stanza, pulled to within two points with under a minute left in the game. However, Emily Anthony calmly sank a pair of free throws with six seconds on the clock to help West Middlesex preserve a 50-46 victory.
Juniata Valley, which opened its PIAA playoffs with a 43-40 comeback win over District Seven’s Laurel in last Friday’s opening round, closes the books on a 22-4 season. West Middlesex (24-3) reached Tuesday’s second round following a dominating 60-19 win over District Seven’s Winchester Thurston last Friday. Tuesday’s win snapped a three-year losing skid for West Middlesex in the second round. The Reds advance to face District Nine champion Kane (23-3) in Friday’s state quarterfinals. Kane defeated District Seven runner-up Brentwood (20-5), 52-47, last evening.
“West Middlesex is a good team and they executed their game plan well,” commented Juniata Valley head coach Rachelle Hopsicker. “We had our chances to win this game, but it just wasn’t our day. White is a good player and we got a lot of fouls guarding her. So, we had to keep pulling people off of her, which changes our matchups.”
Hayden Taylor led Juniata Valley with 15 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. Halee Smith followed with 10, while Emma Musser and Avery Taylor added eight apiece. Musser also pulled down seven rebound and H. Smith had five, while H. Taylor dished out four assists.
Anthony and Karsyn Rupert added to White’s effort with 10 points apiece. Both White and Rupert finished with double-double efforts. White grabbed 12 rebounds and Rupert 13. Anthony also finished with four assists and Grace Mild had five assists.
Avery Taylor knocked down a pair of threes and sister Hayden added one to give the Hornets an 11-5 advantage towards the end of the opening period. The Reds pulled to with three points at the quarter mark and then tied the contest at 13-13 following a White free throw midway through the second period. Musser and H. Taylor dropped in back-to-back layups to put Valley up by four with 2:38 left in the first half. However, White and Rupert combined for seven points to trim the Hornet lead to 22-20 at the intermission.
“West Middlesex was out rebounding us, so we needed to get more rebounds in the second half,” added Hopsicker. “They also had a good third quarter. We live on our defense and when we can’t do what we do, it makes it tough.”
Musser knocked down a pair of jumpers early in the third to help the Hornets cling to their two-point lead. Taylor Tomko buried the Reds’ only trey to put them up by one at the 4:35 mark of the third. But, Olivia Smith answered back with a basket and sister Halee drained a three to give Valley a 31-29 lead.
H. Smith picked up her third foul with around three minutes left in the quarter, but stayed in the game. However, West Middlesex went on a seven-point run to build a 36-31 lead following an Anthony basket with 1:25 left in the period. H. Smith added her second trey, but White countered with a jumper to send the Reds into the fourth leading 38-34.
West Middlesex opened the final stanza with a 6-2 run and built its biggest lead of the game at 44-36 following a White basket with just over four minutes left in the contest. The Hornets answered back with an 8-2 run to close the deficit to 46-44 after a H. Taylor foul shot. Tomko and H. Taylor added shots to keep the game at a two-point difference, until Anthony’s two foul shots with six seconds left closed the scoring.
“We don’t have any medals or trophies to show for it, but we I feel we have a lot to show for this season,” concluded Hopsicker. “We have an amazing community and exceeded everyone’s expectations of us this year. At the end of the day, it’s not about the winning as much as it is about the experiences and fun during the journey. We have most of the team back again next year, along with a nice eighth-grade class coming in. So, we will work hard this summer and look forward to being back next year.”