JOHNSTOWN - So much of the focus when Southern Fulton and McConnellsburg face off in girls basketball is on the teams' superstars.
That's reasonable, as the Indians' Olivia Mottern and the Spartans' Bronwyne Mellott are two of the top players in the area.
But sometimes, it's the people surrounding the stars that make the difference. That was certainly the case Saturday afternoon at U. Pitt-Johnstown in the District 5 Class A Championship, which SF won, 50-41.
Both teams will play preliminary round games in the PIAA Tournament next Saturday, with sites and times to be determined.
"They really came through, and that really makes me feel good," Mottern said. "I trust them a lot, and it takes a lot of pressure off me whenever they play to their capability. They're amazing players and teammates, and I wouldn't trade them for anyone."
While Mellott contributed more than half of the Spartans' offense - she finished with 22 points - Mottern, on the other hand, wasn't even the leading scorer for Southern Fulton (20-5).
That title went to Celina Merchant, who was all over the floor - and the stat sheet. She finished with 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
"I knew that this was my last shot at D-5," Merchant said. "This is what I've been playing 10 years of basketball for. It was all or nothing, and I knew I needed to take control and pick up everyone's slack."
McConnellsburg (17-8) entered the game with a slight advantage, having beaten SF twice during the regular season. The Spartans nearly went point-for-point with the Indians in the first quarter, but when they started missing shot after shot, Southern Fulton took advantage.
"You always hear the No. 3, and it has some special voodoo or whatever you want to call it," Spartan senior Alexis Mellott said. "I don't know what it is, but I guess we showed that it is hard to beat somebody three times. We just struggled a little bit today, but we made it plenty far."
The Spartans shot the ball extremely well in the first quarter, going 4-for-8 from the floor, but they went 6-for-25 (24%) over the next two frames. By the time the third quarter ended, SF led by nine.
"We played good team defense - helped each other out and rotated well," Southern Fulton coach Meagan Raville said. "Having that defensive mindset from the get-go really pushed us through the game."
Merchant said, "Meagan told us the whole game that we had to be in their face, talking the whole time. We had to shut Bronwyne down; we tried to take her left side away, and played help defense on the left."
Rebounding also worked in the Indians' favor. The team finished with 25 boards, including seven from Mottern and six by Lakyn Morton, while McConnellsburg totaled just 17.
"Our rebounding certainly was not like it has been the past couple games, and that hurt us big time," Spartans coach Brent Seville said. "They started to penetrate, and we would collapse on defense and left someone open on the baseline. We weren't dropping quick enough at all."
With 2:28 remaining, McConnellsburg cut the deficit to four points with a Bronwyne Mellott 3-pointer. But Mottern and Merchant combined to go 6-for-6 from the line in the final two minutes, and Drew Gordon hit a layup that was the final nail in the Spartans' coffin.
"I could tell from the shoot-around this morning that we were going to have a good day," Raville said. "Everything that they've been used to - with new coaches - has suddenly changed (this season). They worked so hard, and I'm just so proud of them."
Notes: Mottern finished with 14 points ... Bridgette Ritchey led McConnellsburg on the boards with seven rebounds ... Drew Hann came off the bench to score 7 points for SF ... No other Spartan scored more than 6 points.
Southern Fulton 50, McConnellsburg 41
Alexis Mellott 1 3-4 5, Bridgette Ritchey 2 1-2 5, Justice Seville 2 0-0 6, Bronwyne Mellott 7 4-4 22, Kellyn Perry 0 1-4 1, Kylie Keefer 1 0-0 2. Totals — 13 9-14 41.
Southern Fulton (50)
Celina Merchant 5 5-7 15, Lakyn Morton 1 0-0 3, Shaye Smartt 2 1-2 5, Olivia Mottern 4 5-6 14, Drew Gordon 2 0-0 4, Emily Bradshaw 1 0-0 2, Drew Hann 3 0-0 7. Totals — 18 11-15 50.
McConnellsburg _ 9 _ 6 _ 14 _ 12 _ — _ 41
Southern Fulton _ 11 _ 11 _ 16 _ 12 _ — _ 50
3-point goals — McC 6 (B.Mellott 4, Seville 2), SF 3 (Morton, Mottern, Hann).