JOHNSTOWN >> Down by four with only eight minutes remaining, Southern Fulton exploded in the final frame of Saturday's District 5 Class A consolation game.
"My message was: You have eight minutes to play, and you're either going to have a week or practice before your next game, or you're going to have an offseason to deal with," SF girls basketball coach Terry Bard said.
The Indians took that message to heart, outscoring No. 2-seeded Shade by 10 points in the final frame and capturing a 52-46 victory. With the win, Southern Fulton (15-10) secured a spot in the PIAA tournament; the Indians will play the District 7 winner on Saturday at a time and place to be decided.
"Honestly, early on in the year, I didn't think states were on our radar," Bard said. "I'm really, really pleased with how these girls have come along, and this is a really big accomplishment for them, especially with the rough start we had."
With three minutes remaining, the Panthers (20-6) held on to a six-point lead, but Shade couldn't seem to get off a good shot. Tylar Smith then hit back-to-back jumpers for Southern Fulton to cut the deficit to two. Celina Merchant, who didn't play the first quarter, made up for it by going 11 of 12 from the line in the second half, helping the Indians pull away.
"I told Tylar that if she didn't make those shots, we weren't in any position to win that game," Bard said. "Those two shots were huge, and Celina did one heck of a job getting into the paint and drawing some fouls."
Merchant finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Olivia Mottern led the Indians with 17 points.
Shaye Smartt, who scored eight points, held Shade leading scorer Emma Spinelli to 16 points, including just two in the entire first half.
"We originally were in a 1-3-1 to give them a different look, but we went back to man when we couldn't rebound," Bard said. "Shaye did a tremendous job on Spinelli, and the team did a great job of helping out. Shaye got a blood nose and has a black and blue eye, but at least she has another game to play."
SOUTHERN FULTON (52)
Tylar Smith 2 0-0 4, Allison Spade 1 2-2 4, Celina Merchant 1 11-12 13, Lakyn Morton 2 0-0 4, Shaye Smartt 2 3-6 8, Drew Hann 1 0-0 2, Olivia Mottern 4 6-9 17.
Totals — 13 22-29 52.
Emma Spinelli 6 2-2 16, Lexie Rapsky 4 1-2 11, Alexis Medva 3 1-1 7, Natasha Meck 3 1-2 7, Sammie Haynes 2 1-4 5.
Totals — 14 4 6-11
3-point goals — SF 4 (Mottern 3, Smartt), Shade 4 (Spinelli 2, Rapsky 2).