The Greater Johnstown girls basketball team had just watched a double-digit lead shrink to a single point with 3:23 left in a District 6 Class AAA semifinal game against Westinghouse.
The Trojans were at a crossroads on Wednesday at Central Cambria High School.
No one would have blamed a team loaded with youthful players if it buckled under the pressure.
Coach Rich Price’s squad had other plans.
Johnstown outscored Westinghouse by 11 points in the final minutes and sealed a 63-51 victory that landed the Trojans in Saturday’s 6-AAA championship game.
“We’re changing the culture at Johnstown for basketball,” said Johnstown sophomore guard Lexi Lindrose, who scored a game-high 30 points and went 9 of 10 on the foul line in the final minutes. “We’re setting the stage for the third and fourth graders that are playing. We go to school and all the students are talking about Johnstown winning. We don’t want it to stop here. We want it to keep going.”
Johnstown’s boys had won five consecutive 6-AAA crowns entering this year’s playoffs. But the girls program hadn’t had that type of success.
After Monday’s quarterfinal win over Forest Hills, people were asking when the Trojans had last won a district playoff game – period. It had been nearly a decade.
Johnstown’s only 6-AAA title game appearance was in 2002, when the Trojans won the crown under then-coach Steve Warner.
“The girls executed the game plan,” Price said. “We had a couple turnovers in the third quarter but we overcame it. The best thing I can say about the last two games is we finally closed out.
“That’s the difference between winning and losing, and being a disciplined and mature team, and being a little bit young. We’re coming along. We’re peaking at the right time.”
Johnstown (11-13) capitalized as Westinghouse (14-9) standout Brittany Jackson picked up her second foul at 5:36 of the first quarter. After sitting out a significant stretch, Jackson was whistled for her third right after she went back into the game at 5:19 of the second.
Only two nights earlier, Jackson had scored 20 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as the Trojans scored a win over Somerset.
“Brittany Jackson is such a great player,” Price said. “We knew coming in she was going to be a tough match up for us. She’s a tough match up for everybody. We got her in some foul trouble.”
The Trojans led 12-8 after one quarter and started the second quarter in dominating fashion. Johnstown went up 27-11 after Lindrose took a fade away jumper from beyond the 3-point arc with a defender in her face. The basket was good, and Lindrose was fouled.
She completed the unusual four-point play with a free throw at 2:31.
But just as it appeared Johnstown was in total control, Westinghouse stormed back and closed the half on an 11-0 run.
Jasmine Myers’ two field goals in the final 26.9 of the second quarter pulled the Bulldogs within 27-22 at intermission.
“We have great coaches and they teach us how to handle the situation,” said Johnstown junior Tashayla Smith, who had 13 points and nine rebounds. “We have our teammates that keep supporting us.”
Johnstown rebuilt a double-digit lead in the third quarter, as Lindrose’s 3-pointer with 2:20 left gave the Trojans a 45-35 advantage.
But once again, Westinghouse finished strong and closed within seven entering the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth, the Bulldogs closed to 46-44 on a Jackson basket. The Trojans’ Ikeiah Burns’ hit a short jumper to push it back to 48-44.
Jackson’s basket at 3:23 had the Bulldogs within 49-48.
“During the media time out I told the girls to just relax,” Price said. “I told them the same thing the last two or three minutes against Forest Hills. I told them to enjoy where they’re at, take a deep breath, relax and have some fun.
“We hit our foul shots and the rest is history.”
Jackson had seven of her nine points in the final quarter. Jasmine Myers led Westinghouse with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Taniah Lockhart had 12 points.
Johnstown also had balance. Sophomore guard Robyn Madison frequently disrupted the Bulldogs and had six steals and six points. Burns scored nine points.
“Lexi and Shayla are our two best players, but we get good minutes from at least eight girls,” Price said. “It’s a lot of fun to coach this team. They’re unselfish. They have a good time and they genuinely like each other.
“It was just Lexi’s day today.”
The 6-AAA title game will be played at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Mount Aloysius College.
“It’s a great opportunity for our team and our school,” Smith said. “This is our goal, to play in the district final. We made it.”
“It’s amazing,” Lindrose added. “To come out against a good Westinghouse team in the playoffs and to get us to the district game is an awesome feeling.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.