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Laurel tops Ford City for 1st postseason win in 11 years

| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 11:45 p.m.

Friday night was 11 years in the making for the Laurel girls basketball program.

The Spartans regrouped after a second-half rally from Ford City to secure a 43-37 victory in the first round of the WPIAL Class AA girls basketball playoffs at Butler High School. Laurel's previous postseason appearance was a 52-33 loss to Avonworth in 2003.

“I am speechless right now,” Laurel coach Jessica Shevitz said. “We are just so excited. We've worked so hard for this.

“The kids were so excited and so ready to play this game. They wanted this and when they want something, boy, do they go after it.”

Ellen Shaffer led the way for Laurel (13-9) with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The 5-foot-10 junior paced the Spartans to an early advantage with 10 points and eight rebounds in the first half.

“Best first half of her career,” Shevitz said. “Unbelievable, hats off to Ellen.”

After Ford City (14-8) scored the game's first bucket, the Spartans went on a 13-2 run to seize control and maintained a small cushion throughout the first half. The Sabers trailed 25-18 heading into halftime.

“I don't think it was one of our better games, but I give credit to Laurel,” Ford City coach Al Davis said. “I liked their post play. (Shaffer) played a real good game.”

It appeared Laurel was ready to run away with the victory after a 6-0 surge gave the Spartans a 31-20 lead. However, juniors Christina Davis and Tyree Freeman keyed the Sabers' 12-0 run to give Ford City its first lead since the game's opening basket.

“Tyree Freeman did a really good job sparking the defense and made some big shots on offense,” Davis said.

A free throw from Shaffer evened the score at 32-32 going into the fourth quarter.

Both offenses stalled for much of the final stanza, but Jessica Conrad provided a hoop moments before converting a steal into a layup to give Laurel a 38-34 edge with about three minutes to play. Conrad, a senior who missed much of the third quarter due to foul trouble, finished with 13 points, three assists and three steals.

“Jessica is the heart and soul of this basketball team,” Shevitz said. “I trust her. She knows the floor and understands it. When we lose her, we lose a lot.”

Ford City never cut it to a one-possession game and the Spartans put the game away with free throws in the final minute. Kristin Dicks made 5 of 6 free throws to secure the win.

“We are a veteran group and their patience and their leadership is something that has not been there at times when I expected it,” Shevitz said. “We've talked about it and it showed up big tonight.”

Christina Davis led Ford City with 12 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three steals. Allyson Cujas scored eight points and grabbed six boards.

“We got off to a slow start. We did come back, but we just didn't have enough,” Davis said. “We didn't make the shots when we needed to. That about sums it up.”

The defeat marked the final high school basketball game for Ford City seniors Bethany Meyer, Sarah Heddinger and Andrea DiGregorio. Meyer had six points and blocked two shots.

“They've been great. They're hard workers and great students,” Davis said of his seniors. “They represent Ford City well. I can't say enough about them.”

Laurel moves on to play third-seeded Greensburg Central Catholic (17-4) on Tuesday at a time and place to be determined. Shevitz knows the Centurions will present a daunting challenge.

“Oh, golly. We'll cross that bridge when we get there,” she said. “I'm going to go home and watch some film. Right now, we're just happy to be there. We'll enjoy the ride and see where that goes.”

Jason Orfao is a freelance writer.

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