HYDE – The Clearfield and Punxsutawney girls basketball teams traded home-court wins in their two District 9 League games, but a lot more will be at stake Tuesday night when they tangle for the third time on the Lady Chucks’ hardwood.
The winner earns the opportunity to take on league co-champ and No. 1 seed St. Marys (20-2) for the District 9 Class AAA title Saturday in Clarion University’s Tippin Gym and also secures a berth in the PIAA Playoffs.
Lady Bison coach Joey Castagnolo expects the 7 o’clock semifinal to mirror the previous duels, close and low-scoring.
“We’re pretty equal, and it’ll probably be a slow tempo game,” he said. “A big thing is taking care of the basketball. I think the team with the least turnovers is gonna win.”
Punxsy (11-11) prevailed 40-34 on Jan. 27, while Clearfield (15-7) emerged triumphant 31-28 in Weiss Gym on Feb. 17 to stretch its season-high winning streak to five.
The Lady Bisons lost 53-34 at Elk County Catholic the next night with the Lady Crusaders needing a victory to tie cross-town rival St. Marys for the league title, and then closed the four-game week and regular season with a 62-57 win at Harmony.
Punxsy received the No. 2 seed because of a better league record, 8-4 compared to 6-6 for Clearfield. The difference was that the Lady Chucks split with St. Marys and ECC.
Both teams played much better in the second half of the season, winning eight of their last 11 games, and both have displayed good balance on offense.
Clearfield’s all-senior lineup is led by guards Madison Sopic (251 points, 11.4 average) and Gwenn Porter (249, 11.3).
Amber Byerly (215, 9.8) has been tough in the post, and Jayme Ryan (154, 7.0) gives the Lady Bisons firepower from outside, having poured in 44 three-pointers.
Forward Elizabeth Peters (97, 4.4) is the other starter.
Castagnolo is confident calling on guard Angela Moore (68, 3.2) and forwards Breanna Peters (62, 3.0) and Lori Zalno (25, 1.2) for valuable minutes.
Punxsy, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively on its starters. All five played the entire game at Clearfield.
Pacing the Lady Chucks offensively is junior Hannah Neal with 263 points and a 12.0 average.
Junior point guard Jenna Reitz (213, 9.7) can be dangerous from any distance, often launching NBA-range three-pointers, and junior power forward Shawna Crago (173, 9.1) is tough under the boards.
Senior forwards Megan McCully (162, 7.4) and Amber Fye (137, 6.2) round out the Punxsy lineup.
“Neal is a concern just because she’s their top scorer and hasn’t had a good game against us yet,” Castagnolo said. “Reitz shoots those NBA threes, and you can’t stop that. We’ll try to force her out further by extending our zone.”
Scoring more points is one goal for Castagnolo.
“I can’t ask much more from them on defense, but I’d like to see us run more,” he said. “We really haven’t pushed the ball down the floor against them, and I think we can score more points in transition.”
The home team has won the last five games, including Clearfield’s 43-34 victory in last year’s semifinal.
Top seed St. Marys beat the Lady Bisons 56-28 for the championship.