By Chris Rossetti
CLARION – For years, when someone said KSAC girls’ basketball Karns City was the team that came to mind.
But it hasn’t been that way lately, until Friday night.
In front of a large raucous crowd at Clarion University’s Tippin Gym, the Lady Gremlins (21-1) claimed their first KSAC title in 10 years with a 36-28 win over 2013 champion Clarion (17-6) in the first KSAC title game played outside of Clarion High’s gymnasium.
“I think it’s a tribute to the girls,” Karns City head coach Dave Kerschbaumer said. “About three or four years ago when this group was coming up they talked about that. We had some down years, and they said ‘coach when we get there we will change thing.’ I believed in them, they believed in me and they put the work in in the offseason to get better. That was one of their goals to get us back to prominence in the KSAC and hopefully District 9.”
Karns City was able to win the conference crown despite being drawn into Clarion’s game plan of slowing the contest down which caused the Lady Gremlins to score their fewest points of the year, 25.5 points fewer than they average.
“We held them to less points in the first half (19) than we did in the first quarter the last time we played them,” Clarion head coach Roger Walter, whose team trailed 20-2 at the end of one quarter in the team’s regular-season meeting, a 54-33 Karns City win, Jan. 17, said. “I thought, let’s play with them for four minutes and stay in the game and have some confidence we could win. I wouldn’t change our plan at all. I just wish we had shot more often.”
If Clarion shot more often, it might not have mattered considering the Lady Cats hit just 27.7 percent of the 36 shots (10 of 36) they took while being held to their second-lowest point total of the year and their lowest since losing the season opener 61-23 to Hickory in early December.
“Every possession we talk about defense,” Kerschbaumer said. “We talk about loose ball. We actually put on some knee pads about halfway through the season to get us on the floor a little bit more and be more aggressive. That changed our mindset of being more aggressive with everything we did.”
Karns City was especially aggressive inside in the first half Friday night scoring most of its 19 first-half points from inside the paint including 13 from LeeAnn Gibson, who finished the game with 17 points and 10 rebounds, seven on the offensive boards.
“She’s their strongest weapon, and we gave her exactly what she wanted, “Walter said. “We were supposed to be fronting her and coming from the weak side. We only came half way, and she was strong enough to score. And on second-chance points, she just out hustled us.”
Trailing 19-12 at the break, Clarion did a much better job on Gibson in the second half limiting her to four fourth-quarter points. But the Lady Cats saw their deficit increase to double digits, 30-18, by the end of the third quarter thanks in large point to the play of Emily LoPresti.
LoPresti scored the first eight points of the quarter for Karns City, all eight of her points, while hitting a pair of 3-pointers.
“Our guards have done it all year when the other team has locked down on LeeAnn,” Kerschbaumer said. “Our guards have stepped up and knocked down some big shots. That’s kind of our MO when they collapse down on her.”
Clarion tried to fight back in the fourth quarter and cut Karns City’s lead to six, 34-28, following a pair of Laken Ganoe free throws with 1:32 to play but wasn’t able to get any closer.
It just came down to the end us not making some foul shots and letting them get back in to it,” Kerschbaumer, whose team was 8 of 19 from the line including 2 of 5 in the fourth quarter, said. “But we rallied and made some defensive play at the end.”
Kyla Miles led Clarion with nine points and eight rebounds, while Maci Thornton added seven points.
Both teams now move into the District 9 playoffs. Karns City will be the top seed in the Class AA bracket and will face Brookville, while Clarion will be the fourth seed in Class A and take on Elk County Catholic.
NOTES – Karns City is the first team from the KSAC South to win the KSAC title since the league split into a North-South format in 2009 (In 2007 and 2008 it was an East-West format) … Clarion was trying to become the second team to repeat as KSAC champions since the title game was formed in 2007. Cranberry won three straight titles from 2010-2012 … The first seven KSAC title games were played at Clarion High School … This was the first KSAC title game for Karns City and the second for Clarion.
KARNS CITY 36, CLARION 28
Score by Quarters
Karns City 11 8 11 6 – 36
Clarion 7 5 6 10 – 28
Karns City – 36
Alyssa Gibson 0 2-2 2, Emily LoPresti 2 2-2 8, LeeAnn Gibson 7 3-13 17, Annie Hegedus 1 0-02 , Emily Schumacher 2 1-2 5, Shanel Preston 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 8-18 36.
Clarion – 28
Laken Ganoe 1 3-4 5, Kyla Miles 4 1-4 9, Lauren Wiser 1 0-0 2, Nicki Glenn 1 0-0 3, Maci Thornton 3 0-0 7, Grace Kroh 0 2-2 2, Anna Reed 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 6-19 28.
Three-pointers – Karns City 2 (LoPresti 2). Clarion 2 (Glenn, Thornton).