EVERETT - When Southern Fulton plays in the District 5 Class A girls basketball championship game on Saturday night, Indian coach Terry Bard will be hoping for a more complete performance from his team.

In a 46-41 victory over Northern Bedford on Wednesday in a semifinal test at Everett, the Indians were saved by a long stretch of effective defense.

"It was a gut check," Bard said. "I liked how we reacted when we fell behind. We sucked it up and stayed with our plan."

SF (23-2) will take on Conemaugh Township (20-4), a 65-54 winner in overtime over Berlin in the other semifinal, at Pitt-Johnstown at 6 p.m. Saturday in the final. Southern Fulton has already qualified for the PIAA State Tournament.

Indian guard Taelor Morton said, "I was a little bit worried early, but I knew we could come back. Our defense really helped - we were talking very well."

The Black Panthers (17-7) stymied SF in the first quarter. While the Indians shot just 2-for-12 against NBC's zone, five different players scored to give Northern Bedford a 13-2 lead. However, a jumper from the corner by Kayla Chilcote just before the quarter ended proved to be huge.

"We contested their shots really well in the first quarter, but Chilcote's basket at the end was big," Panther coach Todd Eckenroad said. "It gave them momentum."

Bard agreed.

"It showed we still had a heartbeat," he said.

After Cierra Cottle made a layup to open the second period to make it 15-4, Northern Bedford scored a total of three points over a stretch that lasted nearly 13 minutes. During that time, NBC made turnover after turnover against Southern Fulton's sticky defense and allowed the Indians to get their offense going.

Center Ashley Roman scored nine points during a 21-2 Indian blitz, including the last six early in the third period that gave her team a 25-16 lead.

Overall, SF outscored the Panthers 12-4 in the second period and 20-5 in the third to make it 36-22 with one quarter left.

Bard said, "We had a nice talk at halftime (down 17-16) and the girls decided they were not going to be denied. Our defense got us going in the third period."

Thanks to a slew of NBC turnovers (27 for the game), the Indians were able to push the pace and score on multiple fast breaks.

Eckenroad said, "They got a few easy baskets on layups, and their point guard (Macey Hollenshead) pushed the ball up and ahead of us. We didn't get back very well."

When Morton scored a layup on a fast break pass from Hollenshead early in the fourth, SF held a 39-22 lead, and Roman's layup - also coming from Hollenshead - with just over five minutes left put the score at 44-28.

But Northern Bedford was not toast, yet.

Alyssa Smith dropped in a runner, hit a 3-pointer, then drained another three while being fouled for eight straight points (she ended up with 12). Hannah Drenning hit a pair of free throws with 1:03 left and hit a baseline jumper to pull the Panthers to within 44-40.

But Hollenshead stemmed the bleeding by hitting both ends of a 1-and-1 with 37 seconds left and Southern Fulton survived.

Bard said, "It's tough to keep a team with that many shooters down for a whole game. But I do think with that big lead, we relaxed. That can't happen again."

"We knew they could shoot, but I figured we could hold them off," Morton said.

Roman led the Indians with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting, while Morton and Hollenshead each scored 11. Hollenshead, while suffering a subpar scoring night (she was 2-for-14 from the field), did have seven assists and eight rebounds.

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Ed Gotwals can be reached at 262-4755 and egotwals@publicopinionnews.com.

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Southern Fulton 46

Northern Bedford 41

NORTHERN BEDFORD

Cierra Cottle 3-11 0-0 8, Leah Hershberger 2-10 2-5 6, Alyssa Smith 5-15 0-0 12, Brianna Beach 2-5 0-2 4, Gabrielle Clark 0-0 0-0 0, Hannah Drenning 2-7 5-6 9, Breanna Ludy 0-0 0-0 0, Lana Gochnour 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 15-50 7-13 41.

SOUTHERN FULTON

Kayla Chilcote 3-9 0-3 6, Taelor Morton 4-11 1-2 11, Kayla Wertz 1-8 0-0 3, Macey Hollenshead 2-14 7-10 11, Ashley Roman 5-6 3-4 13, Morgan Strait 0-2 0-0 0, Allison Spade 1-3 0-2 2, Maddie Mellott 0 0-0 0.

N. Bedford 13 4 5 19 - 41

So. Fulton 4 12 20 10 - 46

3-point shots - NB 4-25 (Cottle 2, Smith 2); SF 3-15 (Morton 2, Wertz). Shooting - NB 30%; SF 30%. Rebounds - NB 31 (Beach 14); SF 32 (Chilcote, Hollenshead 8). Assists - NB 8 (Hershberger, Beach 2); SF 10 (Hollenshead 7). Steals - NB 4 (Smith 2); SF 9 (Roman 4). Turnovers - NB 27; SF 13. Blocked shots - NB 5 (Beach 3); SF 2 (Morton, Strait). Fouled out - Cottle, Smith; Roman.