Lady Gremlins fall in first PIAA-AA game
CLARION -- Katie Kepple is far and away Karns City's go-to player. So when the Lady Gremlins were trailing North East by two with less than 10 seconds to play it was obvious to everyone who was going to take the final shot.
So she did.
And she hit the back iron on a baseline jumper as time expired, giving North East a stunning 49-47 win over the District IX champions, ending the Lady Gremlins season in the first round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs Friday at Clarion University's Tippin Gymnasium.
"I think we got the shot we wanted, we had the girl with the ball we wanted, it just didn't fall," Karns City head coach Chris Bellis said. "I thought we executed exactly what we wanted to do in the time out, and as I said, the shot didn't fall."
It would be hard to fault Kepple for the loss. Aside from missing the final shot, she practically carried a war-torn Lady Gremlins squad that saw two starters foul out and another forced to the bench with an injury. Kepple led Karns City with 17 points including seven in the fourth quarter as the Lady Gremlins were attempting to hold the Lady Grapepickers at bay.
Then again, it would have been difficult for anyone to keep pace with North East's Sierra Cornelius. The sophomore forward slashed her way through Karns City's defense for a game-high 27 points --25 of which came in the second half --to help the Lady Grapepickers rebound from an 11-point first-half deficit.
"We actually changed positions for her," North East head coach Dave Murphy said. "We had her on the foul line, getting the ball early up there, to go to the middle where they couldn't help switch because she could get a step and get to the hoop."
Cornelius was so effective she forced both of Karns City's senior towers, Britney Summerville and Brittany Anderson, to the bench in the fourth quarter after fouling out. Anderson finished with eight points and eight rebounds while Summerville, who was in foul trouble throughout, was held without a point or rebound.
"We knew we were going to have problems matching up with her because she's a quick post player," Bellis said. "I thought that Britney and Brittany both did a good job being physical, however what comes along with being physical is you're susceptible to foul trouble and that's the way it went."
What also hindered Karns City's comeback attempt was the loss of guard Laura Seyler, who was forced to the bench during the third quarter and did not return.
"She was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her foot Tuesday and the doctor gave her the green light to play as long as she could handle the pain," Bellis said. "I think <#201> while she was loose in the first half, we came in at halftime and it stiffened up a little bit. It was too much pain for her to handle and she couldn't play any further."
Seyler scored five points in the first half and was instrumental in Karns City building its early lead. Karns City certainly wasted little time establishing itself. The Lady Gremlins shot out to a 7-0 lead behind four points from Kepple and a key Seyler 3-pointer.
While Karns City found the going fairly easy against North East's quick defenders, the Lady Grapepickers couldn't get themselves out of an early funk. Victimized by four turnovers and an 0-for-5 performance from the floor, North East was unable to find any semblance of an offense in the first four minutes.
Circumstances didn't change very much as the period wore on as Ariel Venesky answered with a trey that launched a 7-2 Karns City run that pushed the Lady Gremlins out to a 14-4 advantage after the opening quarter.
North East wasn't about to go down quietly.
After Brittany Anderson made 1-of-2 from the line to extend Karns City's lead to 11, North East finally launched its opening salvo. The Lady Grapepickers went on a 6-0 run and closed the gap to 15-10, but like before Venesky canned a 3-pointer to get the Lady Gremlins back on track and help them to a 26-17 lead at the intermission.
Karns City kept North East at arm's length and had a four point lead, 43-39, with 3:09 to play in the game when Amanda Kerschbaumer ripped a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The Lady Grapepickers, though, went on a 9-1 run to recapture the lead for only the second time in the game.
This time they didn't let it get away but they tried.
North East had four chances to ice the game away inside the final minute with two-shot fouls, but after forward Amy LaFuria made the first, she and her teammates missed seven straight to set up the final shot by Kepple. But with three starters on the sideline, everyone in the building knew where the final shot was coming from.
"Any time you have three starters on the bench at the end of a game, it's a lot of adversity for a team to overcome," Bellis said. "I don't know if we underestimated their ability to make a comeback like that, but that might have been it. We obviously underestimated Sierra Cornelius. She had a great game and played better than I could have expected."