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Burrell girls trying to become game finishers, not slow starters

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PIAA Class AA girls quarterfinals

Burrell (27-1) vs. General McLane (24-3)

7 p.m. Friday Sharon High School

Top high school sports
Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 10:57 p.m.

Like all coaches with nervous energy to burn and a keep-it-from-getting-stale mindset, Burrell girls basketball assistant Mark Ziemianski always is looking for new things to inspire his team.

It can be material for the bulletin board, comparable statistics or inspirational messages — whatever gets the players' attention.

The veteran coach found a gem for Burrell's second-round PIAA playoff game and it couldn't have more accurately fit the team's performance.

“I told them, talent can win you the first three quarters, but character is what wins you the game in the fourth quarter,” Ziemianski said. “I heard that on ESPN, and it stuck with me.”

The message had several Burrell players rethinking their image, their roles, their approach.

Several were using the word “character” Tuesday night after the team held on for a 34-29 victory over Bellwood-Antis (24-4) at Indiana.

Burrell (27-1) managed just two points in the third quarter and trailed by five heading to the fourth. But Natalie Myers led a 10-0 run to put the Bucs back in control, and the sophomore forward scored the team's final 11 points to push them into Friday night's PIAA Class AA quarterfinal against District 10 champion General McLane (24-3) at Sharon.

The conduit to many wins this season, Myers also grabbed 13 rebounds for her fifth double-double in six playoff games.

“Natalie was the spark we needed,” senior center Jess Cercone said.

So this team might finally be getting into character, so to speak, finding its true identity. Burrell has talked itself silly about starting games slow, almost making that the focus of its season. Even after well-in-hand wins there's been harsh self-criticism.

But the emphasis could be shifting to something new: how the team finishes. After all, its rallied to win on several occasions this season, even when it hadn't found its footing in the first 16 minutes, or, in Tuesday's case, in the first 24.

Maybe this team isn't built to dominate against evenly matched teams, but rather to surge late against them, to kick at the final 100 meters. To win fourth quarters.

A second-half team label doesn't seem to fit exactly, but “closers” is nearer the reality of how they play — and finish.

Burrell rarely blows a save opportunity. Getting to that fourth-quarter advantage can sometimes be a challenge, like trying to close a baby-pin with one hand. But once it has control, another win is all but secured.

Burrell also hopes it can put a finishing touch on its season. Two wins away from playing in the state title game in Hershey, the Bucs want to embrace this best-for-last idea — or is it a realization?

“We forget about our mistakes and shake it off,” Cercone said. “We're getting better at that. We make up for it later (in games).

“You know what it shows? It shows that we can fight.”

Head coach Meghan Ziemianski said her team needs time to get “comfy.” Think of a furnace taking time to warm up.

“They're winners,” the coach said. “They find ways. I'd rather win ugly than lose pretty. Just as long as we get going.”

“We're getting a lot more experience playing in close games and it's helping us,” said Bucs junior point guard Sydney Bordonaro, the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,066 career points. “We've been in these type of situations and are able to pull through in the end. I like the close games. It's fun for me.”

Bordonaro has enjoyed her share of individual accolades as her budding career progresses, but she wants to see her teammates get their due as well.

“We have our three seniors (Cercone, Jaila Manga and Kelsey Oddis), and we want them to keep playing,” Bordonaro said. “We're like a family of sisters. We want to go as far as we can, and we'll find a way to do it.”

With a win Friday, Burrell can advance farther than it did last season, farther than any team in school history. Last season, the Bucs lost to Bishop Canevin in the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals to finish 24-4.

Bordonaro said it is a challenge to not look ahead to a possible rematch with Seton-La Salle or Bishop Canevin in the semifinals.

Seton-La Salle (24-4) is responsible for Burrell's only loss, a 55-34 downer in the WPIAL title game. Seton-La Salle plays Bishop Canevin (21-6) in another quarterfinal Friday.

“But we do want to play them again,” Bordonaro said. “I'm not going to lie. It's tough not to see them on the bracket.”

An Alle-Kiski girls team hasn't been to the state semifinals since Ford City in 1998.




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