Claysburg survives storybook ending
Friday, April 06, 2007

By Philip Cmor,
INDIANA — Claysburg-Kimmel girls’ basketball coach Tom Ritchey’s favorite sports movie had been “Hoosiers.”

That was until Saturday. His new favorite is the game tape of his Lady Bulldogs’ PIAA Class A quarterfinal-round playoff game at IUP’s Memorial Field House.

“I’m going to watch it on the bus ride home,’’ Ritchey said.

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

Claysburg-Kimmel’s Monica Iachini (left) hugs Lacey Claar after Claar hit a foul shot in the Lady Bulldogs’ state playoff victory

It’s a feel-good story with an ending the audience loved. There was action, drama and suspense. The critics would have given it five stars if only the storyline was a little more plausible.

It really happened? Oh, wait a minute.

Claysburg scored six points in the last 18.7 seconds of regulation, including Lacey Claar’s two foul shots at the .5 mark to force overtime, then rode the wave of momentum in the extra session to advance to the semifinals with a 58-55 victory over Mount Alvernia.

“I wanted it to be a close game. I figured we’d pull it out at the end,’’ said a giddy Ritchey. “But, uh ....’’

The third-place team from District 6, Claysburg clinched a berth across from District 7 champion North Catholic in the semifinals Wednesday at a site to be announced. Claar scored 24 of her 26 points in the second half and overtime to go along with 15 rebounds and three steals, while Amber Claar added 11 points as the Lady Bulldogs improved to 25-5 and matched the 1999-2000 team for the deepest progression into the state playoffs.

“There’s only one other team in school history to make it to the final four, and that’s what we were going for,’’ said junior guard Monica Iachini, who made a pair of free throws with 10.6 seconds to go in the fourth quarter that cut Mount Alvernia’s lead to two. “We never gave up. I’m proud of all my teammates. I love them.’’

Even many of the best, most-determined teams would have probably resigned themselves to defeat. The Lady Bulldogs had been fighting an uphill battle after the Lady Lions went on a 12-0 run in the middle of the second half to take a six-point lead.

That’s where it stood until Lacey Claar’s layup on an inbounds pass at 18.7 seconds made it 51-47 Mount Alvernia. Then Iachini came up with a turnover, was fouled and made both ends of a one-and-one.

It appeared it would be all for naught, though, as Mount Alvernia’s Lisa Kaczynski got a breakaway layup that would have ended it. Amber Claar, however, raced back to challenge and forced the miss from behind. Lacey Claar tracked down the rebound and drew a foul from Lady Lion star Renee Brown with just half a second left.

Claar, Blair County’s all-time leading scorer who, ironically, has signed with IUP, calmly swished both ends of her one-and-one, also.

“My foul shot has been on. It’s an everyday routine. I knew I could do it. I knew I wanted to continue and I knew I wanted to be with these girls one more time, at least,’’ Claar said.

Claysburg scored the first four points of overtime. Marissa Leslie, the Lady Bulldogs’ second-leading scorer who was held to four points, corralled the overtime tip and made a pullup jumper. Leslie then found Lacey Claar for an elbow jumper to make it a four-point game.

Mount Alvernia got it to within two, but Iachini, who scored eight, made a free throw with 14.5 seconds left and rebounded Kaczynski’s 3-point shot to wrap it up.

“We were ready to go,’’ Iachini said of the momentum her team carried into overtime. “Once we got back into it, nothing was going to stop us.’’

There was no stopping Lacey Claar, either. The Lady Bulldog star took just five shots in the first half, then took over the game.

“We called time out, and I said, ‘If you keep playing like you are, we’re going to lose.’ And Lacey looked right in my face and said, ‘We’re not going to lose,’’’ Ritchey said. “Then she went out and backed up what she said.’’

Claar opened the second half with a 3-pointer and never really stopped. She was 8-for-14 from the field and 7-for-7 at the line after the intermission.

“I knew if I didn’t have a good game here, it was going to haunt me the rest of my career,’’ Claar said. “I just went out and played the way I would on any other court, but with more incentive.’’

Forwards Brown and Katrina Owunna scored 13 points each to lead Mount Alvernia (21-8). The Lady Lions only have one senior on the roster, while five of the seven players who saw action for Claysburg were upperclassmen — Mount Alvernia assistant coach Bill Barker thought that might have been important at the end.

“I’ve been with Coach D (De Porucznik) for 23 seasons now, and I’ve never seen that happen before,’’ Barker said. “Probably, if we had it to do over again, we’d want Kaczynski to bring (the breakaway layup chance) back outside. Then, Renee Brown, in her exuberance, fouled Claar, the worst thing that could have happened.

“I give a lot of credit to Claysburg. They showed a lot of character. Claar’s an outstanding player. She had two points at the half and finished with 26. That’s the sign of a champion.’’

When Claar got going in the second half, it looked like Claysburg might win going away. The Lady Bulldogs surged to a 34-28 lead on a pair of Claar free throws with 2:47 left in the third frame. Brown, though, scored inside and sparked a 12-0 Lady Lion run for a 40-34 lead at 5:17 of the fourth quarter.

Things got off to a promising start for the Lady Bulldogs. Claysburg finished the first quarter on a 10-4 run to grab a 12-11 lead, then added to it on buckets by Rebecca Luciano and Amber Claar to begin the second period.

That’s when Mount Alvernia put Owunna — listed at 5-foot-10 but appearing to be closer to 6-0 — into the lineup. After committing a quick foul, Owunna made four straight point-blank shots as the Lions forged to a six-point lead before Amber Claar’s shot with 3.1 seconds left in the half made it 24-20 Mount Alvernia at the half.

Game notes: Kaczynski made a free throw with 1:50 left that was wiped out by a Lady Lion lane violation. ... Claysburg actually outrebounded the taller Lady Lions, 44-32, enabling it to take six more shots (59-53). ... The teams combined for 51 turnovers. The Lady Bulldogs committed 26. ... Several members of the Altoona boys’ basketball team entered the gym at halftime wearing green. ... Mount Alvernia lost three times this season to Claysburg’s semifinal opponent, North Catholic. The last of those games was decided by five.

CLAYSBURG-KIMMEL (58): Leslie 2 0-2 4, L. Claar 9 7-7 26, Iachini 0 8-10 8, A. Claar 5 1-2 11, Luciano 1 0-0 2, C. Claar 3 0-0 7, Burket 0 0-0 0. Totals — 20 16-21 58.

MOUNT ALVERNIA (): Kaczynski , Holko , Ferrari , Gouch , Brown , Owunna . Totals — .


Claysburg-Kimmel 12 8

Mount Alvernia 11 13

3-point goals: Mount Alvernia X (Kaczynski); Claysburg-Kimmel X ().

Records: Mount Alvernia (); Claysburg-Kimmel ().

Officials: Sam Zambanini, Ted Oppegard, Andy Muha.