Bellefonte freshman Maddie Steiner was nearly brought to the hardwood by her teammates in celebration as she backed away from the 3-point line toward centercourt.
As hugs commenced on the court, the vocal fan minority at DuBois High School erupted as Steiner drained an emphatic buzzer-beating 3-pointer — to end the first quarter.
The 25-foot heave capped a decisive series of events in Tuesday night’s District 6 Class AAAAA semifinal, giving Bellefonte a comfortable lead it wouldn’t surrender the rest of the game.
Jumpstarted by a torrid first quarter, the Lady Red Raiders (12-11) earned a 42-36 win at DuBois (13-10), advancing to face Obama Academy on Saturday at Mt. Aloysius College.
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“It wasn’t something that we always thought about 24/7,” Bellefonte guard Mallorie Smith said of reaching the District 6 finals, “but it was in the back of our minds that we could do it. This just proves that we could.”
Smith, also a freshman, spearheaded the team-wide effort. She had 10 points, while Steiner (seven points), Raisa Gregor (seven), Abbie Carr (eight) and Lauren Young (eight) combined for 30 of Bellefonte’s 42.
Of course, Steiner’s quarter-ending trey counted for more than just three points. It ignited the Lady Red Raiders, finishing off a 14-2 run to give Bellefonte a 16-6 lead after one period.
“I saw there was two seconds left so I tried to get as close as I could,” Steiner said, still beaming from her first-ever buzzer-beater. “After that, we were all like, ‘We got this.’ We were confident. We just had to keep going.”
DuBois grabbed an early 4-2 lead — but from that point forward, it was all Bellefonte in the first quarter.
The points poured in at a rapid pace for the Lady Red Raiders, too. A pair of and-one, three-point plays by Gregor and Young, coupled with another Young bucket and Steiner’s 3-ball, accounted for 11 points in the two final minutes.
“We had to get that. We needed that run,” Bellefonte coach Adam Gearhart said. “Our defense has been our strength all year, and if we can run our defense the way we want to run it, that just plays into our hands. When we get a lead, our defense takes over.”
For the most part, that’s what happened; Bellefonte’s defense was stingy.
The Lady Red Raiders were burned by two players — forward Ashley Hallowell (18 points) and guard Chelsea DeSalve (14). Hallowell bodied up Bellefonte’s bigs for 12 second-half points, and DeSalve complemented her with a couple 3-pointers.
“We knew coming in that those were the two,” Gearhart said. “They were better than advertised, too.”
Otherwise, Bellefonte held its ground. DuBois’ five other players combined for four points.
The Lady Beavers did cut into the Bellefonte advantage, though, as Hollowell’s final bucket made it a three-point game at 39-36 with a minute to go in regulation.
And with 37.9 seconds remaining, Steiner was fouled to go to the line for a one-and-one.
The freshman approached the charity stripe, admittedly nervous. But her coach had no concerns.
“All the confidence in the world,” Gearhart said with a smile. “At this point in the season, if you’re not confident, I’m not gonna have you on the floor.”
Steiner made both attempts, pushing Bellefonte’s lead to five, all but icing the game.
If there was any doubt, Steiner and the Lady Red Raiders showed they’ve got ability to build a lead, hang onto it, and step up late when needed.
Now, Bellefonte has an opportunity to do the same on Saturday — and bring home a District 6 title in the process.