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Ford City slays Lady Dragons

| Saturday, March 9, 2002

HOLLIDAYSBURG - Move over Knute Rockne, Ford City head coach Al Davis is giving you a run for your money as a halftime motivational speaker.

Ford City trailed Martinsburg Central by as many as 14 points in the first half of their PIAA-AA playoff game Friday night at Hollidaysburg Junior High School, but opened the third quarter with a 16-3 run and never trailed again as the Lady Sabers ousted the District VI champion Lady Dragons 67-56.

It was the third straight playoff game in which Ford City (23-4) trailed at the half but made a second-half run to either get back in the game or win outright. The Lady Sabers were behind by two against Seton-LaSalle in the WPIAL-AA opener before rallying for a 64-58 victory. They also fell behind Vincentian by 23 and clawed back to within seven in a 64-48 decision in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

"At halftime we just gathered our thoughts and said to calm down and play our game," Ford City point guard Heather Abate said. "We know how to play the game, so we just used what we had, looked at the floor plan and went from there."

That plan became rather simple. Get the ball to Lizzie Suwala. A lot.

The freshman sensation added another chapter to her remarkable first season by exploding for 17 of her game-high 30 points in the second half, including seven of the team's 16 during their third quarter run. She was also clutch down the stretch in the fourth quarter converting 6-of-6 from the line in the final three minutes to help salt the game away.

"At halftime we said that we can win this game and that we're a lot better than them," Suwala said. "So we turned it up in the second half."

Did they ever.

Suwala scored the last five points of the second quarter, including a three-point play with 5.9 seconds on the clock to the cut Ford City's deficit to single digits, 32-23, heading into the intermission. And for the third straight time in the playoffs the Lady Sabers exploded from the locker room as if a rabid dog was on their heels.

Melissa Schrecengost, Suwala and Abate scored baskets within the first 1:06 to cut the Martinsburg Central lead to three. From there it went back and forth until Abate stole the ball from Lady Dragons guard Lindsay Johnson and took the ball the length of the floor for a layup to put the Lady Sabers in front 36-35 with 4:12 remaining in the third quarter.

Suwala completed the run with a 3-pointer that extended Ford City's advantage to five and they never trailed again.

"Their players were playing off a gap in the zone and we were trying to distort the zone and it worked really well," Davis said. "We could get that and they would pop out and our post people would slide right down there and that's what really changed the game around."

Ford City (23-4) didn't realy have anywher to go but up after a dismal first quarter that would have made the Washington Generals cringe.

Neither team played exceptionally well to open the game as the two combined to miss their first 12 shots and commit five turnovers in the first 3:19 before Suwala got the Lady Sabers on the board with a short jumper.

In all the two teams were 6-for-24 from the field and committed 16 turnovers, 10 by Ford City alone, as the Lady Dragons held a 7-6 lead heading into the second period.

That's when Martinsburg Central took over.

With Ford City's Julie Scopel and Kara Grafton forced to the bench with three personal fouls the Lady Dragons took command of the game. Using their patented cycling approach they were able to open up the lane for Lani Fisher, who finished with 16 points, and allow guard Krystal Ferry to spot up the outside jumper which allowed her to post a team-high 20 points and four 3-pointers and the Lady Dragon to carry a nine-point lead into the intermission.

It was also right where Ford City wanted them.

"It happens all the time," Davis said. "I don't know if it's the pressure of trying to do too much, but once they settle down they're fine."

They'll get at least one more chance to exhibit some playoff savvy when the Lady Sabers take on Washington, the third-place team from the WPIAL, Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

"We have life," Davis said. "We're still breathing."

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