Penns Valley wasn’t supposed to have a chance against Blairsville in the quarterfinals of the District 6 Class AA girls’ basketball tournament.
The Lady Bobcats entered the tournament as the top seed and ranked fifth in the state with just one loss in 22 games.
Despite an injury to a key starter early in the game, the No. 8 Lady Rams stayed glued to Blairsville through three quarters. A key 43-second stretch to start the fourth quarter made the difference as Blairsville pulled away from a 63-51 victory against the Lady Rams.
The Lady Bobcats (22-1) got almost all of their offense from two players. Chelsey Koren scored a game-high 31 points, while Laurel O’Barto added 14 of her 19 in the second half. Freshman Kourtney Beamesderfer netted 20 points for the Lady Rams.
“One thing that I know that I can count on with my team is they’re going to come out and give it their all,” said Penn Valley coach Andrea Borland. “They came out and played hard. I can’t be more proud of them. ... Blairsville is not No. 1 for no reason. They’re a great team and I think we gave them a run.”
The Lady Rams led by a basket late in the second quarter and were within four to start the fourth quarter when Blairsville’s relentless pressure defense made the difference in the first minute.
O’Barto started the key run by nailing a pullup jumper on Blairsville’s first possession and scored seconds later on a pass from Koren after a steal. Koren then made a layup of her own following her steal and the lead was quickly 51-41. Another Koren basket on the Lady Bobcats’ next possession pushed the lead to 12 points.
“That’s how we play,” Blairsville coach Ralph McGinnis said. “We get one or two steals and we score. Now, we’re lighting it up. I wish we could do it it earlier.”
“That took a little bit of pressure off,” Koren said. “We really needed that and it gave us a boost of confidence to carry that lead through the fourth quarter.”
Beamesderfer’s 3-pointer with about six minutes left cut the margin to nine points, but the Lady Rams would get no closer than eight from there. With Penns Valley playing a tough zone, McGinness elected to slow the pace.
“We let the air out,” he said. “There was no sense in letting this go on until they come out and start fouling. We’re a pretty decent free-throw shooting team. We kept the ball in the hands of our top three shooters.”
O’Barto was 5 for 6 from the line in the final two minutes as Blairsville hung on.
“They were a very good team,” Koren said of Penns Valley. “I have a lot of respect for them. ... They didn’t have much height, but they were quick and scrappy. They played good defense and they were just tough.”
The Lady Rams got off to a tough start. Just two minutes into the contest, starter Tangie Lyons fell awkwardly on a drive to the basket and appeared to injured her right knee. She was on crutches after the game with the knee wrapped.
“It was tough,” Borland said. “You never want to see a player go down like that. She’s a tough kid and I think all of the girls wanted to put in all of the effort they could at that point.”
Penns Valley trailed 17-10 after the period, but showed its tenacity in the second. Beamesderfer’s jump shot capped an 8-2 run that gave the Lady Rams a 26-24 lead with 1:45 left before halftime.
Koren scored six straight to close out the half and give Blairsville a 30-26 lead. The 5-foot-11 junior had 18 points in the half as Blairsville played most of the second quarter without the foul-plagued O’Barto.
“We just fed Chelsey,” McGinnis said. “If we didn’t have it, we’d kick it back out and go back in again.”
“She might be the best player we’ve seen all season,” Borland said of Koren.
Led by Beamesderfer, the Lady Rams spread out the scoring a little more. Seven different players had baskets. When the Lady Rams were able to break the Blairsville press, they often nailed open jumpers.
“They shot the ball very well,” McGinness said. “They just were lighting it up there for awhile.”
Kylie Orndorf and Karli Ripka added seven each for the Lady Rams, who concluded their season with a 14-8 mark. All seven players who scored Friday will return next season.
“We had nice senior leadership and we have a lot of girls that put in a lot of time in the offseason,” Borland said. “We have a lot of girls who had a lot of time who are young. We had high goals this season and we’re going to have high goals next season.
“They know they have the abilities to play with a top team. That’s nice leading into next season.”