ALTOONA – It had been 367 days since the Cedar Cliff girls basketball team last tasted when the program’s breakthrough 2021-22 season ended with a 45-38 state semifinal loss to eventual champion Plymouth Whitemarsh. The Colts, since then, had authored another undefeated regular season, rolled to their first-ever District 3 title and, once again, found themselves knocking on the door to their first state championship game.
But in Monday’s Class 6A semifinal at Altoona Area High School, Norwin had threatened to put an end to it all. The No. 3 seed from District 7 brought size and resolve to the final four matchup, and a basket and-one from junior forward Lauren Palangio gave the Knights a six-point lead with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Cedar Cliff answered.
After 9-1 run to end the third quarter, 19 points from Olivia Jones, a handful of key plays from different players down the stretch and a defensive shutout in a four-minute overtime period, the Colts cleared the final hurdle to Friday’s Class 6A state championship game with a 55-47 victory, adding another piece of history to their two-year historic run.
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“I knew we weren’t going to fold,” said Cedar Cliff head coach Scott Weyant. “I knew we would keep battling. We have some senior leadership there, and (Olivia) is a great leader. They just didn’t want it to end here, so I knew that we were going to get some kind of run at the end.”
Cedar Cliff’s Taylor Ferraro, who had scored the game’s first points almost two hours earlier, hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to open the scoring in overtime. The senior guard, wrist heavily taped, caught a pass from Kathryn Sansom, who had charged in from the point to grab and offensive rebound and set up Ferraro the go-ahead basket.
“Seeing Kathy and O and Lexi (Buie), all of us get that second and third opportunities, I just knew I needed to hit that shot at the end. Everyone else was doing their job, and I knew I needed to do mine.”
The Colts (30-0) never trailed again. Alexis Buie, Sydney Weyant and Ferraro made five of the team’s final six free throws to ice the game and set up Friday’s championship matchup with Archbishop Carroll, a 31-30 winner over Cardinal O’Hara in the other semifinal.
The Colts had shot 1-for-9 from the foul line from the start of the fourth quarter until that stretch at the end of overtime.
“If I’m being honest, I’ve been really struggling,” said Buie, who made two free throws to extend the Colts’ lead to 52-47 with 1:24 remaining. “Last Friday (in the quarterfinals) I really struggled. I’ve struggled with free throws randomly at the end of the season, but just to be able to help my team in that way, it just felt great.”
Buie (12 points) also grabbed a pair of key rebounds down the stretch, one to extend the possession that later ended with Ferraro’s 3-pointer and another to end Norwin’s final offensive possession in regulation.
The Knights (24-5) paced by Palangio’s game-high 20 points, made six shots from the field and scored 15 total points after Palangio gave them a 32-26 lead with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
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“Their patience is something you don’t see a lot of times in high school,” Norwin head coach Brian Brozeski said of the Colts. “They’re very disciplined in the fact that they make reads very well, and they’re going to challenge you to defend. And if you make a slip-up, they find it a lot of times. They did a nice job of that.”
The patience and discipline helped Cedar Cliff claw back in the late stages of the third quarter. Jones scored 10 points in the period, and Sydney Weyant hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave Cedar Cliff a 38-36 lead, the Colts’ first advantage since late in the second quarter.
“We just a looked a little shell-shocked,” Scott Weyant said, “and were a little unsure of ourselves because we hadn’t been in that position very much this year. But we told them at halftime, ‘Just settle in. They’re a good team. We’re a good team. We need to just keep battling.’”
And with the win, they have the chance to battle together, one final time, with a state title on the line for the first time in their program’s history.
“It’s definitely redemption from last year,” Sydney Weyant said. “We knew we wanted to get to the state championship. We had the grit, and we all wanted to get to the next level.”
Tim Gross is the sports editor at The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at: @ByTimGross