ALTOONA — Cedar Cliff won the opening tip-off and moved the ball around the perimeter for 47 seconds before taking the first shot of the PIAA Class 6A girls basketball quarterfinal Friday night against Upper St. Clair at Altoona Area High School. The initial shot hit the rim. So did the putback attempt. But the patience and two offensive rebounds – from Alexis Buie and Olivia Jones – set the tone and gave Cedar Cliff the control they would carry the rest of the way.
Jones and Buie collected double-doubles, with 10 points and 11 rebounds each, and the Colts punched their ticket to the state semifinals for the second consecutive season with a 39-22 victory.
“Our No. 1 thing on our board every day is rebounds,” said Cedar Cliff head coach Scott Weyant, “and that’s both offensively and defensively. (Jones) does a great job, and even our guards get in there and mix it up.”
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They have chance to mix it up in the state semifinals against Norwin, a 50-30 quarterfinal winner over North Allegheny, Monday at a site and time to be determined.
“We’re just trying to make our niche,” Weyant said. “Last year and this year, we’ve been trying to make our runs, so hopefully people down the road start mentioning Cedar Cliff in the same realm as those guys.”
The undefeated Colts (29-0) added a little more to the niche-carving Friday night with relentless rebounding, extending their own offensive possessions while leaving Upper St. Clair with sparse second-chance opportunities at the other end. Cedar Cliff’s defense also forced four Upper St. Clair turnovers in the first quarter and held the District 7 runner-up Panthers (23-4) to one point and zero field goals through the end of the first quarter, taking a 12-1 lead in the process.
“Our defense really set the tone today,” Jones said. “That’s what we came in focusing on. We know they can light it up from 3, so we really just made sure to run them off the 3s and give them as few as possible.”
Upper St. Clair also fought foul trouble from the get-go, collecting seven fouls in the first three minutes, 34 seconds in a first half that featured constant stops and starts as the Panthers struggled to sustain a rhythm.
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“It was the fouls,” said Upper St. Clair head coach Pete Serio, “but somehow we had to try to overcome all that. It was difficult because our two Division I players (Kate Robbins and Mia Brown) were sitting on the bench three minutes into the game. We wouldn’t be here without those two kids.”
Buie also picked up her second personal foul with 3:21 left in the first quarter. The Panthers cut the lead down to four with a 6-0 run to open the second quarter on four made free throws and a Paige Dellicarri 3-pointer with 3:45 left in the half, but the Colts answered with a 6-2 run to the buzzer, including an Ella Frey basket in the waning seconds.
“Every one of their players is a very good shooter,” Weyant said. “We were really worried about having to get out and defend the 3. Both of our bigs had to go out and play on the perimeter at times, and I thought they did an excellent job.”
The Cedar Cliff defense continued to keep the Colts in control, holding Upper St. Clair off the board in the third quarter until Meredith Huzjak’s 3-point heave from about 5 feet behind the line ended the drought with five seconds left in the period. By that point, the Panthers had lost guard Rylee Kalocay to an injury and received a bench technical foul, and Cedar Cliff had tightened its grip on the momentum.
Sydney Weyant added 10 points to match Jones and Buie for the team lead. Frey finished with four points while Sansom added three and Ferraro pitched in two for the Colts, whose 2022 run ended with a state semifinal loss to eventual champion Plymouth Whitemarsh.
“It’s different the second time through,” Scott Weyant said, “partly because of the senior class and my daughter (Sydney) being in that senior class, so I’m trying to really relish every moment that we can that we’ve been on this run.”
Tim Gross is the sports editor at The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at: @ByTimGross