Eddie Baumcratz of Explore Clarion with a Coach-to-Coach Interview with Clarion head coach Roger Walter following the win Thursday night
By Chris Rossetti
KARNS CITY, Pa. – Tied at 29 with under four minutes to play at Karns City High School, Clarion used a 10-2 run to beat Quigley Catholic 41-33 and advance to the final eight of the PIAA Class A girls’ basketball tournament for the second straight year.
“It’s awesome,” Clarion head coach Roger Walter “At the beginning of the year, I said no one is going to want to play us at the end of the year. We got on track faster than I thought we would. All of the pieces just clicked. It’s been a like a three- or four-year run. They key games we have to get, we just keep getting.”
Clarion, which trailed by one (20-19) late in the third quarter before leading by five, 26-21, early in the fourth quarter found itself tied with Quigley, the third-place team out of the WPIAL, following a Kristin Jackson jumper with 3:53 to play that ended an 8-3 run by the Lady Spartans that saw Jackson score six of her game-tying high 13 points.
But Grace Kroh, who also had 13 points, untied the game for good with a layup 23 seconds later off a Laken Ganoe pass starting the game-deciding run that saw Kroh score the first four points and Maci Thornton, Kyla Miles and Ganoe also had two-point buckets.
“That was one of those games that was so tight,” Walter said. “I told them at the start of the third quarter, a six-point lead is a big lead. It doesn’t seem like it, but it is. All in all, it was a great game.”
Kroh, a senior who entered the game averaging 6.4 points per game, played a huge role in the victory adding 14 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals to her 13 points, which were her second-highest-point total of the year.
“Grace is a leader,” Walter said. “This time of year if anybody is going to pick up and play like that to keep their season alive, it’s going to be a senior.”
Kroh needed to pick up her game considering Quigley was containing Clarion’s two-leading scorers Miles (16.5 ppg) and Thornton (16.0 ppg) limiting the duo to 19 total points.
“Kyla is a great player,” Walter said of his 1,000-point senior who had eight points Thursday. “But she has to be dribbling and leading herself into her move. When she caught the ball and isolated down low, she didn’t have a great game. She has to be moving to make things happen.”
Thornton had her second poor shooting performance in the state playoffs – 4 of 18 after shooting 5 of 31 in a first-round win over Frazier – but did score 11 points including her 1,000th career point late in the game finishing the night with 1,001 career tallies.
“I don’t think she was pressing in this game,” Walter said. “The other day, I think so. In this game I think it was the intensity of the game and the fact they had a big, lengthy defender on her. Everything was a jump shot with a little extra hang just to avoid that defense. Of course, there is pressure on (getting to 1,000 points). The monkey is off the back, and we got the win, so life is good.”
To Thornton’s credit, she once again didn’t allow her offensive struggled to affect the rest of her game grabbing nine rebound while dishing out four assists and coming away with a steal. And she was also able to celebrate her 1,000th point, as it came on a free throw with 1:11 to play that gave Clarion a 40-33 lead that quickly became 41-33 when she hit the second charity shot after a Lady Cat timeout.
“It was special,” Thornton said of reaching 1,000 points. “It’s been a goal of mine since I was younger. To get it my junior year, I’m really happy for that. And I’m happy for Kyla, I think it’s really cool we got it (1,000 points) in the same year.”
While Clarion struggled as a team shooting hitting 17 of 56 shot (30.4 percent), the Lady Cats defense was holding an opponent under 30 percent from the floor for the third straight game.
Quigley hit just 9 of 53 shots (17 percent), and Clarion’s defense has limited its two PIAA playoff opponents to 23.1 percent (24 of 104) from the floor and its last three postseason opponents to 25.6 percent (42 of 164) shooting.
“I thought we played exceptional defense,” Walter said. “Our defenses were different. Their defense was intense at the guard positions, and our defense was intense in the post and we crashed hard. In the end, it paid off for us.”
Neither team had anything going on offensively in the first half playing to a 13-all tie at halftime after each team scored five first-quarter points and eight second-quarter tallies.
In fact, neither team scored until Quigley’s Liz Duer connected on a layup off an offensive rebound 4:22 into the contest.
Clarion, which was held to two first-quarter points in its only other game at Karns City this year – a loss to the homestanding Lady Gremlins – didn’t reach the scoreboard until 1:15 left in the opening quarter when Thornton hit a layup.
“I don’t think we were getting into things,” Walter said. “But at least we weren’t down 18 like the last time we played here.”
The Lady Cats offense never really got going in the first half until the final 38 seconds of the half when Clarion scored four points on a jumper by Lauren Wiser and a layup by Thornton to erase a 13-9 deficit.
Clarion then took that momentum into the first 1:15 of the second half scoring six quick points on a pair of Thornton baskets and a Kroh layup to build a 19-13 lead.
“We just wanted to create movement,” Walter said. “I said at halftime you aren’t going to get into a comfortable, steady offense. It’s going to be a game where it’s going to be up and down and whoever plays hardest is going to win.”
Clarion’s lead was short lived, though, as Quigley fought back with a 7-0 run that saw three different players score to take a 20-19 lead on a Kaitlyn Smith free throw with 1:50 to play in the third quarter.
But Smith only hit one of two charity shots at the 1:50-mark highlighting a problem for the Lady Spartans, who were 15 of 26 from the line in the game compared to Clarion’s 6 of 11.
“At this time of year, luck is involved,” Walter said. “And it’s going to have to be to keep winning.”
Clarion answered right back with buckets from Ganoe and Kroh to take a 23-21 lead going to the fourth quarter, and a 3-pointer by Glenn early in the fourth quarter built the lead to five, 26-21.
But Quigley had one final run in it going on the 8-3 spurt to tie the game at 29.
Clarion will get a rematch with Bishop Guilfoyle in the quarterfinals Saturday at a site and time to be determined. Last year, BG ended Clarion’s season with a 45-35 win in Indiana.
NOTES – Thornton is just the second player in Walter’s 10 years at Clarion to reach 1,000 points joining Miles, who achieved the feat earlier in the season. Miles now has 1,236 career tallies, the second-most in school history … Thornton is the sixth Lady Cat to score 1,000 career points.
CLARION 41, QUIGLEY CATHOLIC 33
Score by Quarters
Clarion 5 8 10 18 – 41
Quigley 5 8 8 12 – 33
CLARION – 41
Grace Kroh 5-13 3-4 13, Maci Thornton 4-18 3-4 11, Kyla Miles 4-11 0-2 8, Laken Ganoe 2-6 0-0 4, Nicki Glenn 1-7 0-0 3, Lauren Wiser 1-1 0-0 2, Olivia Bartley 0-0 0-0 0, Paige Weaver 0-0 0-0 0, Anna Reed 0-0 0-1 0, Kaitlyn Beichner 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-56 6-11 41.
QUIGLEY CATHOLIC – 33
Kristin Jackson 3-13 7-11 13, Liz Duer 4-9 0-3 8, Kaitlyn Smith 0-13 7-10 7, Gabrielle Smith 1-15 1-2 3, Brittany Jackson 1-2 0-0 2, Anna Shvach 0-1 0-00. Totals 9-53 15-26 33.
3-pointers – Clarion 1-7 (Glenn 1-6, Ganoe 0-1), Quigley Catholic 0-8 (K. Smith 0-4, G. Smith 0-3, B. Jackson 0-1).
Rebounds –Clarion 50 (Kroh 14), Quigley Catholic 43 (K. Jackson 11).
Assists –Clarion 7 (Thornton 4), Quigley Catholic 3 (G. Smith 2).