Blairsville, Forest Hills girls win District 6 championships
LORETTO — Among the Blairsville players' chief goals from the start of the season was to send girls basketball coach Ralph McGinnis to the District 6 finals again.
Not only did the Bobcats earn a spot in the Class AA championship game on Saturday, but they also won it to give McGinnis his first title in his first season with the team.
McGinnis took Richland to the district finals in 2012 but failed to claim the crown, losing to Forest Hills, which won the Class AAA championship earlier in the day.
“This is fantastic,” McGinnis said, moments after fourth-seeded Blairsville upset second-seeded Bellwood-Antis, 71-61, at St. Francis University. “I'm speechless.”
Chelsey Koren scored 23 points, and Blairsville (24-1) converted all but two of its 27 free-throw attempts.
The Bobcats will play WPIAL seventh-place finisher Greensburg Central Catholic on Friday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
“This is just unbelievable. It's been a goal we've all had since the summer,” said the Koren, a 5-foot-11 sophomore who is considering attending Niagara. “We wanted to win the District 6 championship. We are the champions.”
The Bobcats made 13 consecutive foul shots before missing twice in a wild fourth quarter, when they were 10 for 12 from the line and were outscored, 25-22.
But they had a big enough cushion that it didn't matter.
“Blairsville is a good team,” Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney said. “They have three legitimate scorers and a post player (Koren) who made us pay.”
Mackenzie Livingston added 15 points, and Laurel O'Barto contributed 12 for Blairsville, which built leads of 28-20 at halftime and 49-36 after three quarters.
“Our free-throw shooting was big. We practice it all the time,” McGinnis said. “We think that it's important when games go down to the wire.”
Anna Hollen led Bellwood-Antis (24-2) with 25 points. Katy Leamer added 16 for the Blue Devils, who will face WPIAL third-place finisher Burrell on Friday in a PIAA first-round game.
Forest Hills 56, Ligonier Valley 48 — Even in defeat, Paul Dominic remained encouraged.
“We're trying to build this program,” the Ligonier Valley girls basketball coach said. “We're getting there.”
The Rams fell short in their first District 6-AAA championship game, losing to Forest Hills, the defending District 6-AA champion, at St. Francis.
Casey Gallagher scored 21 points — 14 in the first half — to lead Forest Hills (19-4) to a victory over Ligonier Valley (16-7), giving the Rangers their second consecutive district title.
Both teams advanced to the PIAA playoffs for first-round games Saturday, with Forest Hills playing Hampton — the fifth-place team from the WPIAL — and Ligonier Valley meeting the District 10 champion.
Gallagher, who scored 10 first-quarter points, helped Forest Hills to a 33-23 halftime lead. Caitlyn Gallagher and Jill Scott finished with 10 points apiece for the Rangers, who won the District 6-AA crown in 2012 before making the jump to Class AAA.
“People said we lost too much from last year. We lost three starters,” Forest Hills coach Carol Cecere said.
“I'm proud of our players. They believed in themselves from Day 1. They've forced others to believe in them.”
Forest Hills used a 14-0, second-quarter run to surge to their double-digit halftime lead and stretched the margin to as many as 20 in the second half.
“We were down by 10, and then we were down by 20. It was a reality check for the girls,” Dominic said.
Ligonier Valley got the deficit to single digits late in the fourth quarter, outscoring Forest Hills, 16-9, but the Rangers benefited from strong free-throw shooting, finishing 15 of 16 from the line.
Maddy Grimm scored 17 points, and Stephanie Hemming added 10 to lead Ligonier Valley.
“Being here is new to Ligonier Valley,” Dominic said. “I'm very excited with the direction of the program.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.