Battle lies ahead
Even though no one will ring a bell before tipoff tonight, Freeport girls basketball coach Kirk Lorigan knows his team will have to come out fighting when the Lady Yellowjackets (23-4) take on Seneca (22-6) in the second round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs.
Lorigan expects the game site, Slippery Rock University's Morrow Field House, to take on the aura of a championship boxing match.
"I think this game has the makings of a knock-down, drag-out heavyweight fight," said Lorigan, whose Yellowjackets cruised past Tussey Mountain, 61-38, Friday to advance to the second round. "We're excited because we know this is going to be a fun game."
Lorigan's prediction is based on the fact that Freeport and Seneca are extremely similar.
The tale of the tape shows both teams have balance, depth and experience.
"It's a very intriguing match-up," Lorigan said. "Whatever teams makes the least mistakes is going to be the winner."
Both teams rely almost solely on senior leadership.
Freeport, which set a girls school record for wins in a season with its win over Tussey Mountain, has seven seniors who contribute substantially. Seneca has six.
"They play seven, eight kids, so they'll match up well with our bench," Lorigan said. "They are very quick, especially their guards."
The Lady Bobcats, who finished second in the Erie County League and rely mainly on the one-two scoring punch of senior guard Kelli Eastman and senior forward Lisa Brozewicz.
Eastman, a Mansfield recruit, is averaging 12.7 points per game. She worries Lorigan, but so does senior point guard Ashley Sonney (8.5 ppg).
"Sonney is very quick," Lorigan said. "She is very composed and poised. We're as concerned with Sonney as we are Eastman.
"They also have two six-footers we can't forget about."
Inside, the Bobcats rely on seniors Annemarie Priester (7.5 ppg) and Shelly Hofius (4.5 ppg). Brozewicz averages 10.2 ppg.
Freeport will counter in the post with seniors Julie McCorkle and Michelle Vascik.
McCorkle leads Freeport in scoring in the playoffs at 12.6 ppg.
Vascik, a Glenville State recruit, continues to play well off the bench.
Lorigan said senior point guard Nicole Beggs played extremely well on defense against Tussey Mountain.
Freeport entered the state playoffs on a down note. It was coming off a tough loss to Carlynton in the WPIAL championship game. But Freeport showed resilience in its win Friday -- its first state playoff victory since 1989 and first in Class AA. Fans of the Yellowjackets may have expected as much.
Freeport has a knack for recovering from tough losses. Take its 66-49 loss to Ford City in January. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, the Yellowjackets reeled off 10 straight victories and made it to the WPIAL finals.
The loss that snapped the streak was the 42-20 defeat against Carlynton.
"We were a little concerned how we would come out (after the Carlynton loss)," Lorigan said. "When Friday rolled around, the kids really seemed ready to play. Even though Carlynton put us out, we still know if we play our game, we can play with anyone.
"Once we got that first taste of competition again, that sense of basketball, we were ready and took control of that game."
There aren't enough games left to build another 10-game win streak.Two more wins, though, will land Freeport in the Western finals, three more into the state championship game in Hershey.
Seneca defeated South Allegheny, 58-29, in the first round of PIAAs.
Lorigan said the Bobcats may take Freeport lightly since the Yellowjackets defeated South Allegheny by a combined 27 points in two meetings this season, including a 48-40 win in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
But, like most prized fights, common opponents and record books are better off tossed out the window.
The winner of the game will break new ground. Neither team has ever been to the state quarterfinals.
Seneca has not appeared in the second round since 1978.
Freeport could see WPIAL Section 1 rival Greensburg Central Catholic, a team it split with during the regular season, in the quarterfinals Friday.
GCC (20-6) plays Karns City (21-5) at 6 p.m. today at Butler High School.
The state quarterfinals will be Friday at sites and times to be determined.
Slippery Rock is a familiar place for Lorigan. It is his alma mater.