Marissa Ward had never hit a buzzer-beater before in her Bald Eagle Area career.
Then Saturday came and the Marion Center defense coupled with a second chance presented itself.
Ward looked like she had iced Bald Eagle Area’s District 6 Class AA quarterfinal game late in overtime when she picked Marion Center point guard Taylor Woodrow’s pocket at half court with just seconds to play and nothing but an unguarded basket in her sight. But Ward slapped the ball away from Woodrow and out of her own grasp and stumbled to the hardwood where Woodrow recovered it for an inbounds play.
But with just six seconds left, BEA’s Lexi Josefik poked the inbounds pass from Woodrow and right into Ward’s hands on the spot she had fumbled just seconds before and Ward was off, sealing BEA’s 35-33 win at Hollidaysburg High School with a buzzer-beating layup.
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“Just to end on a fastbreak — we didn’t even get a fastbreak the whole game — and we got one at the end of the game when it was close,” Ward said. “It was awesome.”
Josefik finished with seven points and the decisive forced turnover that sent Ward on her way. Mary Pillot and Katelyn Miller both added seven points apiece for Bald Eagle Area (22-1) which advanced to the District 6 Class AA semifinals for the first time in school history.
Chantel Glasser led Marion Center with 15 points but the Lady Stingers struggled mightily at the free throw line. Marion Center shooters hit just six of 17 free throws and missed six of eight in the final two periods of play.
“We know what it feels like to be in that locker room at the end of the season and everyone’s just crying,” Ward said of her team’s past playoff losses. “We don’t want this to end. We’ve been working for it since fifth grade and this year it’s ours.”
Right out of the gate it didn’t appear to be. Marion Center stifled BEA’s attack that has relied on quick transitions all season.
The opening quarter was filled with early turnovers and missed long shots and neither team had many open scoring opportunities. Combined both teams turned the ball over 10 times in the first quarter.
It started to open up a bit in the second. Hannah Jo Beer found her shot for Marion Center and sank two mid-range shots while Glasser got hot with three buckets. Kearsten Brocious added a three for the Lady Stingers and Marion Center took a 17-15 halftime lead after Miller added four points for BEA and Pillot hit a critical three-pointer to keep it close.
“I told them, ‘We’re playing their pace.’ And their pace is slow,” BEA coach Troy Butterworth said. “We’re not used to playing slow. We want to push the ball up the floor.”
So Butterworth switched up his team’s defensive look for the second half, opting for a full-court, man-to-man press look.
The Lady Stingers didn’t get many looks at the net the rest of the way and when they did only shot 5-for-19. Meanwhile, Allie Simpson hit four third-quarter free throws and Josefik added two timely 3-pointers, one in the third and another in the fourth to even up the score.
In overtime Marion Center wasted little time, taking back the lead as Jenny Irvin sipped through the BEA defense for a shot that fell just seconds into the extra period. With the exception of a free throw from Glasser, that would be the last good look Marion Center would get.
“I thought our guard could get some steals, like Ward and them, tip the ball out of there and get some easy baskets to start our offense,” Butterworth said.
In the end a play like this was the finisher.
Pillot would add two more before Ward hit one of two free throws then nailed her second straight layup try on the fastbreak.
“I turned around and I just saw everyone jumping around and I was like, ‘Wow, we didn’t lose. We won the game.’ This is the first time in history that we got past the quarterfinals, it is really awesome.”