JOHNSTOWN - If only Southern Fulton could've put the first quarter on repeat, the Indians likely would have punched their ticket to the second round of states.
But fortunately for Homer-Center, SF couldn't do that.
The Indians played a nearly-flawless opening frame and led by a double-digit margin after the first buzzer. Slowly but surely, the Wildcats chipped away at it, and they captured a 47-46 victory in the first round of the PIAA Class A girls basketball tournament at Pitt-Johnstown on Saturday night.
"Had we put four quarters together like that first, it would've been a totally different story," Southern Fulton coach Meagan Raville said.
After trailing by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter, Homer-Center (19-8) whittled it down to just a point by halftime.
"I gotta say, I was questioning it myself," Homer-Center coach Tom Lasher said. "But I've been around these girls for years, and they have the ability to come back. They never give up. I know that's cliche, but that's just the truth."
After a few Wildcat runs in the third and fourth frames, it was Southern Fulton (21-5) that had to play catch up. With under five minutes to go, the Indians trailed by seven points. But consecutive layups by Drew Gordon, Olivia Mottern and Celina Merchant pulled SF within one.
With 49.5 seconds to go, a three-point play by Mottern tied it at 44-all. Mottern finished with a game-high 24 points and did all she could to get her team back in it with 14 points in the fourth alone. She was 6-for-6 from the line in the final period.
"She's always our go-to at the end of a game," Raville said. "You can definitely count on her to hit the big ones."
Mottern said, "I was just honestly seeing that we needed to score, and we were almost to (the bonus). I wanted to drive as much as possible and try to get the fouls."
The teams traded buckets before Homer-Center's Morgan Buggey sank a free throw to take a late lead, 47-46. An SF turnover with less than nine seconds to go proved to be the final dagger.
"We started the game off with the team effort and how we've been playing this postseason," Raville said. "We slowly, unfortunately went back to some of our old ways. The turnovers and silly mistakes, the things that we could've controlled - rebounds, making easy shots - we just didn't do it."
The Indians got a monster game from Mottern, who finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals. Southern Fulton's Celina Merchant also contributed 10 points, while freshman Drew Gordon had four points and seven rebounds.
But Homer-Center was slightly more balanced, with five players scoring at least five points. Mottern was nearly matched by the Wildcats' leading scorer, Alexis Newhouse, who finished with 22 points.
"I'm not really sure what happened," Mottern said. "We just started to let them get better looks on defense, and we had a little bit of trouble scoring in the second quarter, especially. That led to the momentum shift going into halftime, and it was just hard to get that back."
With the victory, Homer-Center will face Halifax in the second round.
Homer-Center 47, Southern Fulton 46
Maggie Arone 2 2-3 6, Morgan Buggey 2 1-2 5, Emily Worcester 3 0-0 6, Alexis Newhouse 10 1-2 22, Lexi Leysock 3 3-3 9, Abbey Ginter 0 0-0 0. Totals — 18 7-10 47.
Southern Fulton (46)
Celina Merchant 4 2-2 10, Lakyn Morton 1 0-0 3, Shaye Smartt 1 1-2 3, Olivia Mottern 7 7-8 24, Drew Gordon 2 0-1 4, Emily Bradshaw 0 0-0 0, Drew Hann 1 0-0 2. Totals — 16 10-13 46.
Homer-Center _ 5 _ 14 _ 15 _ 13 _ — _ 47
Southern Fulton _ 16 _ 4 _ 6 _ 20 _ — _ 46
3-point goals — SF 1 (Morton).