Blairsville girls claim District 6-A title
LORETTO — A team loaded with veteran players can make a coach's job much easier, and Blairsville's Ralph McGinnis was reminded of that Friday night.
With leading scorer Chelsey Koren in foul trouble, Laurel O'Barto stepped in.
O'Barto scored eight of her 13 points mainly while Koren was on the bench, and Blairsville marched to the District 6-A girls basketball championship at St. Francis (Pa.) with a 43-31 victory over Bishop Guilfoyle in the title game, ending the Mauraders' dominance in Class A.
“We knew we were up by seven when Chelsey went out,” O'Barto said. “We just said we were going to bring the ball out and play at our pace, and we held it together until she could get back into the lineup.”
Despite the absence of Koren for a time in the third quarter, Blairsville (23-2) dominated from wire to wire to snap Bishop Guilfoyle's eight-year reign as district champion.
The Bobcats, who dropped in classification this season from AA, outscored Bishop Guilfoyle in all four quarters, taking advantage of a stellar defense and strong free-throw shooting (9 for 12), whereas the Marauders were 6 for 14 from the line.
“You're not going to win a lot of ball games by shooting (poorly) from the foul line,” Bishop Guilfoyle coach Mark Moschella said. “They did a nice job defensively on us and shot free throws well. It was just the opposite for us.
“We'll learn from this game.”
Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs next week.
Blairsville, ranked No. 3 in the PIAA by pennlive.com, will take a 12-game winning streak into a first-round game against the fourth-place finisher from District 9. Bishop Guilfoyle (20-5), ranked No. 6, meets the fourth-place finisher from the WPIAL, either Riverview or Quigley Catholic, who play in the WPIAL consolation game Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
“These kids have worked so hard for three years now,” said McGinnis, who returned for a second stint as coach at Blairsville to start the 2012-13 season. “The seniors are doing things like running practices. They're doing all the little things you need to do to have a successful program.”
Blairsville won the Heritage Conference regular-season championship for a third consecutive time, producing a 16-0 mark that extended its conference winning streak to 55 while improving its overall record during a five-year run to 104-19.
Blairsville led 31-19 when Koren, a Colgate recruit who was averaging 18.9 points but scored just nine in the championship game, collected her fourth foul with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
Bishop Guilfoyle couldn't take advantage of her absence as O'Barto, a Pitt-Johnstown recruit, scored eight of Blairsville's 12 third-quarter points to help the Bobcats take a 34-23 lead into the fourth.
O'Barto primarily guarded Bishop Guilfoyle's leading scorer, Lili Benzel (19.3 ppg.), limiting the sophomore to eight points.
Bishop Guilfoyle closed within 35-27 on a basket by Karis Taddei, but Blairsville's ball-control style slowed the pace the rest of the way.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.