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February 11, 2014

Portage girls hold off late Berlin charge

PORTAGE — What started out as a runaway turned into a nail biter when the Berlin Brothersvalley girls squared off against Portage on Tuesday night.

The Mustangs took a commanding 31-15 halftime lead, but then had to hold off the hard-charging Mountaineers for a 52-47 victory in a WestPAC non-section game.

“Berlin’s a great team and senior dominated,” Portage coach Lance Hudak said. “We talked about it at halftime and knew they were going to make a run. They have a lot of pride and you saw that it in the second half. They zoned us up and slowed us down and made us play a way we didn’t like to play and they kept making big shots down the stretch to make it exciting. We did enough and made enough foul shots down the stretch to get the win.

“We needed a close game because we have not been in one since the first weekend. I think we learned a lot from this.”

The victory gave Portage (20-1), the top seed in the upcoming District 6-A playoffs, a measure of revenge after Berlin (18-3) had eliminated the Mustangs from the PIAA playoffs last year. The Mountaineers loss Tuesday coupled with a 44-29 Shade win over Conemaugh Valley gave the Panthers the South berth in Saturday’s WestPAC title game opposite Portage at the Pitt-Johnstown Sports Center.

“All those girls that were on the court tonight except for freshman Abby Chobany remembered losing to Berlin last year in the state tournament and splitting with them in the regular season,” Hudak said.

Emily Chobany paced the Portage scoring with 23 points, including 14 in the first half while teammate Lexi Wozniak added 14 points, including 12 from 3-point range, and Olivia McCabe pulled down a game-high 19 rebounds.

Erica Craig topped the Mountaineers scoring with 18 points, including 15 in the second half. Aleesa Fieg supplied 15 points and Shelby Coughenour added 10 points and eight rebounds.

Portage never trailed, rolling out to a 19-7 lead after the first quarter and outscoring Berlin 12-8 in the second, utilizing its full-court press which seemed to rush the Mountaineers and cause turnovers.

“We played well in the second half but you can’t expect to give up 31 points in the first half of a game and expect to win, regardless of what you score,” Berlin coach Rachel Prosser said. “Their quickness, even though you know it’s coming, but I think it caught us off guard and really got us rattled and they play hard so it was tough.”

But the Mountaineers began to chip away at the Mustangs’ advantage, outscoring Portage 10-5 in the third to pull to within 11 points.

In the fourth, thanks to hot hands by Fieg and Craig, Berlin drew to within 3, 50-47 with 20.2 seconds left. Paisley Zatek and Chobany each went 1 of 2 from the line in the closing seconds to preserve the win.

“I think Berlin really came out and tried to win in the second half and we had to step up our game there at the end,” Emily Chobany said.

Added McCabe: “This game lets us know that we can’t rely on just the first half score. We have to keep playing. In the second half we tried to make some plays that weren’t there, but overall we did OK.”

Despite the loss, Prosser was able to see a positive for her team, which is still battling for a playoff spot in District 5-A.

“It was a big-game situation probably for both teams for us to both be able to play in a tight game at the end,” Berlin coach Rachel Prosser said. “I wouldn’t expect anything less out of my girls because they work hard and play together. If you are going to have a bad quarter - we had a bad half - but at least we got that game situation to take from it.

“We knew they had a chip on their shoulder from last year. We wanted to get back to the WestPAC this year, but when you start out like that, you’re clawing your way back so I think they gave their best effort, but we still have some stuff to get better at yet.”

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