For one quarter, it looked like the Bellefonte girls’ basketball team was headed for a first-round playoff win.
But the lid went on the basket, the ball got slippery and the Lady Red Raiders just could not hang on.
Ligonier Valley took over in the second half and held off Bellefonte’s comeback attempts for a 30-27 District 6 Class AAA playoff victory Monday night at Central Cambria High School.
“We worked really hard to get here,” said Lexi Wetzler, whose seven points led the Lady Raiders. “Our whole team had to work hard to pull together. Even though we might not have advanced as far as we wanted to, we all got a lot of experience.”
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Jess Book added six points and eight rebounds and Cassandra Book had six rebounds and a pair of blocks.
Taylor Rudnick’s 13 points led the Lady Rams (11-10), who will face top-seeded Huntingdon on Wednesday in the district semifinals.
The Lady Raiders shot out to a 10-4 lead after the first quarter, but over the next 20 minutes, taking them midway through the fourth quarter, they made just 3 of 21 field goal attempts with 18 turnovers.
“We were frustrated,” Wetzler said. “We just had to keep our heads in it and we had to crash the offensive boards. We weren’t doing that very well.”
“We had this game under control in the first half,” Bellefonte coach Brett Leister said. “We went into halftime telling the girls that they want to make this game sloppy. Let’s face it, it got that way in the second half. We didn’t take care of the ball. They just outworked us, they outplayed us, they were all over the floor and we just didn’t match their intensity.”
For Ligonier Valley coach Valerie Ray, it was a matter of calming her team down under the pressure of the district playoffs.
“They were still jittery the whole way through the third quarter,” Ray said. “It took a while for them to start playing.”
Bellefonte was up by four at halftime and led until Rudnik hit a baseline jumper to put the Lady Rams in the lead for good at 19-18 and Madison McLaughlin converted an inbounds pass into a jumper seconds later.
The fourth quarter began with an 8-0 run for Ligonier Valley, including two buckets on offensive put-backs, for the largest lead of the game at 29-20.
“That fourth quarter they finally stepped up and started playing a little bit more like a team,” Ray said. “Although at that point in time, as soon as you get the lead a little bit, I’m like, ‘All right, now calm down a little bit and run some of the clock.’ It’s a work in progress but they did start playing there towards the end.”
That was when the Lady Raiders rallied, with Alexis Franks taking the ball coast-to-coast for a layup before Wetzler buried two free throws and then drilled a 3-pointer with 2:37 left to cut the lead to 29-27.
“Our whole team was excited,” Wetzler said. “We were coming back. We were just really excited to get back in the game and have a chance of moving on.”
The Lady Rams, meanwhile, started feeling those nerves again.
“I was nervous,” Ray said. “That’s where I’m trying to tell them to calm down with the ball. That’s when they go, ‘What do you mean? You’re taking me out of the pace and I’m scoring now.’ Now I’m telling them to slow down, quit going to the hoop and scoring.”
Unfortunately for Bellefonte, there would be no more scoring despite a number of chances.
The Lady Raiders made just 10 of 40 field goal attempts (25 percent) and had 26 turnovers. Ligonier valley was 13 for 51 (25 percent) with 14 turnovers, with half those turnovers in the first quarter.
“We were really excited because it’s our first time at districts,” Wetzler said. “We were pumped to be here and our whole team was excited that we started out on top.”
The Lady Raiders (12-9) saw their season come to a close, but after rough stretches over the last two seasons with records of 3-19 and 4-18, the team made some major improvements.
“Our girls, I can’t be prouder of them,” Leister said. “They struggled the past three years, only winning a total of seven games the past two years. To come out with a 12-9 season, their first opportunity in districts, their first opportunity to see this type of atmosphere, it’s a tough game for us.”