BEDFORD >> In a game that's tight throughout, it's easy to look at a few plays here or there down the stretch that could've made the difference.
But McConnellsburg's boys basketball team will likely be looking at the first four minutes of Wednesday night's game for answers.
Southern Fulton scored the first 10 points of the District 5 Class A semifinal, and although the Spartans turned up the heat in Bedford, the Indians staved them off for a 55-47 victory.
"Looking back, that first quarter was really important," SF forward Connor Litton said. "Throughout the game, we had some stretches where we were stagnant. We didn't run the offense well, and having that cushion in the beginning helped us out."
No. 1-seeded Southern Fulton (24-1) will face the No. 2 Shanksville (24-1) in the district championship on Friday at 8 p.m. at Pitt-Johnstown. McConnellsburg (17-7) plays Conemaugh Township (16-9) in the consolation at 5 p.m. at UPJ, with only the winner advancing to states.
"The entire year, we've come out pretty weak, and once again, they came out stronger than us," McConnellsburg guard Jake Boehme said. "That was the game. Coach (Dane Pollock) even told us that we beat them 28 minutes out of 32, but that first four minutes is what hurt us the most."
Trailing by eight at halftime, the Spartans came out of the locker room in a 1-3-1 defense that started to create some difficulties for Southern Fulton. Although the Indians were held scoreless for more than four minutes in the third quarter, McConnellsburg didn't cut into the deficit much due to some shooting struggles of its own.
But the Spartans finally started to convert with consecutive layups from Quintin Miller and Boehme to cut the Indians' lead to just one point.
"We knew that they didn't like to play against the zone," Boehme said. "We played them twice with man, and that didn't work. We played the 1-3-1 near the end of our second game, and that shook them up a little bit. We tried to get on their shooters a little more."
Southern Fulton countered, though, with 3-pointers from Zach Clark and Carl Potter to set the score back at 39-32.
"There were a couple pivotal points in that game where we were kind of reeling and needed a bucket," SF coach Kent Hendershot said. "Zach Clark hit a big three, and I thought Carl Potter's buckets were huge tonight. We need that."
The closest McConnellsburg got after that was three points. SF's Dylan Gordon opened the final quarter with a trey to extend his team's lead to 42-36, then Spartan guard Landon Richards answered with a trifecta of his own. Both teams missed on their next two possessions before Southern Fulton finally started to pull away with strong free-throw shooting. The Indians were 13 of 19 from the line on the night and 7 of 10 in the final quarter.
"We play well in spurts; I've said it all year," Pollock said. "I'm hoping it's just a sign of a young team. We seem to do things well and ride that emotion, then we sort of get comfortable again. I hate losing, but it's really hard to be upset after this game."
Hendershot said, "We said that we needed to get out to a good start and really explode off that. Credit to McConnellsburg, they played their tails off tonight. Dane had a great game plan, and we didn't execute ours."
Rebounding was also a big factor in Southern Fulton's success. The Indians out-rebounded McConnellsburg, 27-17, and Litton had more rebounds in the first half than all of the Spartans combined. Litton finished with a monster game, scoring 26 points, pulling down 13 rebounds and snagging five steals.
"They do a good job of boxing out," Litton said. "You have to get good position and play strong defense, so when the shot goes up, you can get a good jump on the ball. I knew we weren't shooting well, so I knew I had to pick up my game. I had to do some scoring for the team."
Litton wasn't the only one; with Rider under the weather, Dylan Gordon also picked up a lot of the load. He racked up 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and a pair of steals.
Hendershot said, "Connor puts us on his back; that's what good players do. Every good team always has a kid like that, and we have a couple of them. They just take turns having their nights."
NOTES >> McConnellsburg got 16 points from Chase Novak and 10 from Ian Cheatle ... Tyrelle White pulled down eight rebounds ... The Spartans never led ... Both teams had 12 turnovers.
Jake Boehme 3 2-4 9, Ryan Koontz 0 0-2 0, Chase Novak 4 7-8 16, Tyrelle White 2 0-1 4, Quintin Miller 1 0-0 2, Ian Cheatle 4 2-2 10, Landon Richards 2 0-0 6.
Totals — 16 11-17 47.
SOUTHERN FULTON (55)
Zach Clark 1 0-0 3, Owen Hawkins 1 3-4 5, Dylan Gordon 3 4-6 13, Connor Litton 10 6-9 26, Trent Rider 0 0-0 0, Carl Potter 3 0-0 8, Dristin Mellott 0 0-0 0, Chase Varner 0 0-0 0, Branden Lynch 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 18 13-19 55.
3-point goals — McC 4 (Richards 2, Novak, Boehme), SF 6 (Gordon 3, Potter 2, Clark).