CLARION — The seventh-seeded Lady Raiders kept the dream of the D-IX AA title alive with a hard-fought 50-49 win over the third-seeded Lady Berries in the district playoff semifinals Thursday night at the Tippin Gym at Clarion University.
"It was 32 minutes of the hardest basketball those kids can play. When things started going south late in the game they didn't get rattled they kept their composure and we hit some big free throws late. We did enough to win," said Mark Powell, Lady Raiders varsity coach.
Brookville had a 43-32 advantage early in the fourth quarter but Cranberry stayed true to its reputation and made a strong push in the final period.
The Lady Berries' 6'2" center Sune Swart crashed the offensive glass hard all night, and the fourth quarter was no different. She scored 10 points in the final stanza alone and initiated the Cranberry fourth-quarter run with a putback.
With 6:20 left in the fourth quarter, Lanae Newsome dished to Elaina Powell, who knocked down a big triple to give the Lady Raiders a 46-34 lead.
Cranberry's star point-guard Emily Merryman then demonstrated why she's the top scorer in D-IX (22.7 ppg) when she knocked down a corner three with 5:07 remaining.
"Emily (Merryman) is a fantastic player. We knew coming in that it comes down to her and (Sune) Swart. We had to find a way to not necessarily stop them but try to contain them, and we did just enough there. Emily hit a lot of shots, and Sune, in the second half, was hitting the boards and getting some putbacks on us. I thought, defensively, we never slowed down. From Aisha through the rest of the kids, the effort was there all night," said Powell.
The Lady Berries then added six more unanswered points with Swart, Merryman and Julie Swartzfager all contributing a bucket.
The Lady Raiders lead had been cut to 46-43 with 2:31 left in the fourth quarter after Swartzfager's lefty layup that, erupted the Lady Berrries fans.
Brookville stayed tough with its defense though, and Karly Reinsel made a clutch steal with 1:34 remaining and drew the foul. She stepped up to the line and paid no attention to the noise, as she knocked down both one-and-one free throws to extend the Lady Raiders' lead back to five, 48-43.
Cranberry's Swart once again made her presence felt inside with four consecutive points.
The Lady Raiders had the narrow 48-47 advantage with under 20 seconds remaining when freshman Elaina Powell hauled in a key rebound off the Cranberry miss and got fouled in the process. Brookville was in the bonus at that point, but it didn't matter, as Powell had ice water running through her veins when she sank both foul shots.
Brookville had the 50-47 advantage, as Cranberry made its last ditch effort at a tie. The Lady Berries' Swart grabbed an offensive rebound with four seconds left and scored the putback to bring Cranberry within one of the tie but it was too little, too late. Lanae Newsome took the ball out of bounds after the Cranberry make and held on to run out
the remainder of the clock to award the Lady Raiders the 50-49 upset over the Lady Berries.
"I felt like we've gotten so much better as the season has gone on. Earlier in the year, we would have made some mistakes there late, but (tonight) we didn't. We kept our composure, and we made enough plays late, and that's what it comes down to. Big free throws; Karly (Reinsel) hit two big ones, and Elaina (Powell) hit two big ones late. I'm just real proud," said Powell.
The Lady Raiders received big minutes from all players who put in time Thursday night with everyone contributing.
Lanae Newsome led Brookville in scoring with 18 points. When she wasn't scoring she was dishing dimes and committing crimes with six assists and three steals, in addition to three boards and a pair of blocks. Sister Aisha Newsome tallied nine points, all from beyond the arc and was given the assignment of guarding Merryman for a majority of the night. Aisha also picked up a team-high six steals with three boards and a pair of assists. Powell also scored nine points plus four rebounds and three steals. Kylee Deal notched six points, hauled in three rebounds and picked up a steal. Reinsel also tallied six points in the Lady Raider victory. Samantha Reinard hit a pair of free throws to round out Brookville's scoring.
"For three and a half quarters, that was the best basketball we've played all year. To start that fourth quarter off, we really hit some big shots, and things were really rolling for us. Maybe a bump in the road but that was due to them. Emily (Merryman) was hitting shots, but I thought we made the plays," said Powell.
Cranberry's Merryman was the game's leading scorer tallying 21 points with four triples. Swart patrolled the paint on both ends of the floor all night, which led to a near triple-double with 16 points, 17 boards and seven blocks. Swartzfager scored nine points, and Maddie Hepler added three points in the Lady Berries' defeat.
"To be the champion, you have to beat the champs, and hats off to them, they've (Cranberry) won four years in a row. We didn't win anything yet other than the semifinal game, but we had to knock them off, someone had to beat them. I couldn't be any more excited it's us but it's only step two of the three-step process, and we've got to play next Friday," said Powell.