By Andy Close
KANE — The rematch was even better than the first go-round, but the outcome was the same.
Maci Thornton scored 24 points as Clarion beat previously unbeaten and top-seeded Port Allegany 54-45 in the District 9 Class A girls semifinals at Kane Area High School on Wednesday.
The win sends Clarion to its third-straight D-9 Class A title game, where they beat Port Allegany last year and lost to Keystone in 2012.
“I told the girls that teams have eras around here,” said Clarion coach Roger Walter. “We had the Union era for a while and Karns City’s having one probably in Class AA as we speak. You better put us in that conversation with anybody.”
For Port Allegany, it’s its first blemish on an otherwise perfect résumé, but coach Kristina Francis knows that the season is far from over, with four teams advancing to the PIAA Class A playoffs.
“I think the top four teams in this district are very competitive,” she said. “I think we showed to hopefully the KSAC and everyone down south that we are right there. I’m proud of the girls and it just stinks right now.”
Wednesday’s semifinal game was played within a four-point window on either side until a pair of free throws from Kyla Miles with 1:47 remaining gave Clarion a 47-41 lead.
“You have to like the fact that we’ve played triple overtime games, close games, tight games,” Walter said. “Pressure? We better be used to it.”
Free throws were the story for Clarion in the fourth quarter, as they made 12-of-13 down the stretch to secure what was a very tight game throughout.
“We have a knack of never shooting well and all of a sudden winning games with foul shots,” Walter said. “We’ll take it.”
Clarion led the entire fourth quarter, and took the lead for good on a a Thornton offensive putback with 1:11 to go in the third quarter, but most of the game played out like a classic boxing match, with one team punching and the other immediately countering.
Trailing by two, 24-22 at halftime, Port Allegany (22-1) immediately came out and retook the lead on a triple from Lynae Delacour, but that was followed 20 seconds later on a three from Nicki Glenn.
Glenn, who averages 3.5 points per game on the season, was the story of the night for fourth-seeded Clarion (19-6), as she scored 12 points, all on three-pointers.
“She’s maybe has two threes in a game once this year, and it was just a great night for her,” Walter said. “We wouldn’t have won this game without our role players. Give Lauren Wiser a lot of credit as well. She came in and played huge minutes.”
Clarion went up four on a Thornton jumper three minutes into the third, but the Lady Gators answered with a 7-0 run, capped by a three from Somer Buchsenchutz to put them back on top, 32-29.
After Clarion took a four-point lead in the fourth quarter, freshman Autumn Buchsenschutz drilled a three with 3:34 to go that cut the margin to one, 40-39.
“Autumn stepped in and played well offensively,” Francis said.
That was followed by a 9-1 run by Clarion, however, keyed by a three-point play from Miles that essentially ended any hopes of a Port comeback.
“I just think we couldn’t capitalize on a couple of buckets,” Francis said. “I think if we could have that hopefully would have swayed the momentum. We cut it to one with a couple threes and we just couldn’t get past that point.”
The game started in strange fashion, as Port Allegany was assessed a technical foul before the game even started, when an incorrect number was listed for one of its starters in the scorebook.
Thornton missed both free throws, however, and Port Allegany wasn’t hurt in a first half that was back-and-forth.
Becca Lathrop, Port Allegany’s leading scorer on the season, did most of her damage in the first 16 minutes, scoring 11 of her team-high 17 points and pulling down 10 of her 16 rebounds.
“Offensively, we weren’t all clicking,” Francis said. “I think we were trying to depend too much on our bigs.”
The game was tied at 22-22 just before halftime, when Thornton made a jumper in the lane with five seconds left, putting the Lady Bobcats up two at the break.
“She’s a gamer,” Francis said of Thornton. “When the game was on the line she found a way to get the ball in her hands and didn’t miss. And the difference was we missed.”
For as tightly as the game was played both teams did commit their fair share of turnovers — 19 for Port and 22 for Clarion.
“We were having a little bit of trouble,” Walter admitted. “When Maci would break the pressure there would be another layer of pressure.”
For Port Allegany, they know the season is far from over.
“I know this group of girls, and they’re going to come back more determined and fired up to make something happen,” Francis said.
Clarion will play Keystone, a 51-50 overtime winner over Venango Cahtholic in the other semfinal, in Saturday’s title game, with the Lady Gators meeting VC in a quarterfinal rematch from last season in the consolation game.
NOTES: This is the first time Clarion has played in the district title game three consecutive seasons, having never went back-to-back seasons until last year … Port Allegany was seeking its first back-to-back trips to the District 9 title game since making it three-straight times from 1990-92 in Class AA … Port Allegany outrebounded Clarion 38-31, 18-9 on the offensive end … Clarion is now 14-1 when scoring at least 50 points this season
CLARION 54, PORT ALLEGANY 45
Clarion 15 9 11 19—54
Port Allegany 15 7 10 13—45
Maci Thornton 8-8-11-24, Nicki Glenn 4-0-0-12, Laken Ganoe 3-0-0-6, Grace Kroh 1-2-2-4, Kyla Miles 1-6-8-8, Anna Reed 0-0-0-0, Lauren Wiser 0-0-0-0, Olivia Bartley 0-0-0-0, Totals 17-16-21-54
PORT ALLEGANY (45)
Krista Miller 1-0-1-2, McKenna Johnson 0-0-0-0, Lynae Delacour 2-1-2-6, Becca Lathrop 5-7-9-17, Brooke Roys 6-0-4-12, Somer Buchsenschutz 2-0-0-5, Autumn Buchsenschutz 1-0-0-3, Totals 17-8-15-45
Three-point FGs: Clarion (4) — Glenn 4; Port Allegany (3) — Delacour, S. Buchsenschutz, A. Buchsenschutz