NEB girls take third, advance to states
MONTOURSVILLE - Late in the game a young Northeast Bradford team had a chance to ice the game on free throws.
Normally this is where young teams tend to struggle but the Panther rose to the occasion, going 6-for-6 from the charity stripe to earn their way into a state berth by beating Benton 52-44 in District IV, Class A girls' basketball consolation game Saturday.
"It's huge," Northeast Bradford coach Paul Burgert said about his player's free throw shooting late. "We work on them a lot in practice but we don't shoot that well in practice. They stepped up, they really shot well. As long as they make them when it matters."
According to guard Calla Martin the practice has paid off.
"It was pressure but we shoot them a lot in practice," she said. "It's kind of natural to us."
Getting Northeast back to states for their lone senior was a goal for these Panthers.
"It feels awesome," Martin remarked. "We wanted to do this for our senior MaKaylah (Holbert). She wanted this experience so it feels great."
Nobody may have been happier than Holbert to be going to states.
"It feels awesome," she exclaimed. "I feel really lucky to have a team that could put me through."
Going in they had heard Benton was the favorite to win and used that as motivation.
"Our team has a lot of talent so were really excited," Northeast forward Angelia Laudermilch said.
Benton featured All-state player Justine Seely in the frontcourt, a tall task for the Panthers.
"It was a nerve-wracking," Laudermilch said about matching up with her. "Our coach went over how we should guard her and everything. He said we would have to work hard and help each other as a team."
Seely had 14 points in the first half but was held to just two in the second.
Things started quickly after the opening tip as both teams played as if the first to 100 wins.
By the five minute mark Northeast held a tenuous 12-10 lead thanks to a four point out burst from Martin.
"I didn't necessarily want them to score that many points," Burgert said. "There wasn't much defense, it was a track meet."
"It was kind of nerve-wracking," Northeast guard Maddy Johnson said about the fast pace. "But that's how we like to play, back and forth and keeping it an uptempo game."
The game slowed down slightly from there but it was still nip and tuck. A Laudermilch steal and lay-up put Northeast up 14-10 but a Justine Seely bucket cut it back to a two point lead.
A five point burst by Laudermilch put the Panthers up 19-13 and led as much as 21-15 late in the first quarter. Benton finished the quarter on a 4-0 run to cut the deficit to 21-19 to end the quarter.
In the second quarter Benton's defense stiffened and they took a 26-23 lead early off a four point burst from Seely.
Northeast battled back, going on a 5-0 run to go up 28-26. Seely tied it up off an offensive rebound but a Martin free throw gave the Panthers a 29-28 lead at the half.
Northeast's first half pressure gave them plenty of turnovers but Benton's physical front line was able to make it up with offensive rebounds.
"We boxed Seely out pretty well," Burgert explained. "But we were giving offensive rebounds up to everybody else on their team. That was the difference in the first half, they were killing us on the offensive boards."
The girls noticed the disparity, too.
"We were worried at first," Holbert said. "But our coach talked to us that we had to get up and get it."
The Panthers started the quarter strong in large part because Seely was on the bench with four fouls.
Northeast went on a 5-0 run to take a 34-28 lead and looked on the verge of breaking the game open.
That's when Benton found their 3-point stroke, going 4-for-4 in the third quarter to hang with the Panthers. A late Casey Gavin three tied the game at 40-all going into the final quarter.
In the fourth Northeast struck first as MaKaylah Holbert hit a layup to go up 42-40 but not after Seely picked up her fifth foul, knocking her out of the contest.
"I thought we got a little over confident," Burgert admitted when his team saw Seely leave the game. "They battled us right to the end, that's for sure."
Benton's Kaitlyn Derrick followed with a lay-up of her own but Laudermilch steal and lay in made it 44-42 Northeast. Gavin hit a lay-up to knot things up again but a Martin lay-up with 1:25 to lay put the Panthers up for good.
From there Laudermilch, Martin and Johnson iced the game with their free throws for the 52-44 win.
"It feels good," Laudermilch said about making those free throws. "I was a little nervous but like Calla said we do them a lot."
Laudermilch led Northeast with 16 points, seven boards and three steals while Martin had a strong all around game of 13 points, nine boards, seven steals and five assists.
Johnson added eight points, nine boards, two steals and two assists, freshman Lydia Werner had eight points, senior MaKaylah Holbert added four while Allyssa Coon and Shelby Park added two points each for Northeast.
Forcing Benton to turn the ball over before they got into their half court offense was key for the Panthers.
"The last game they had 41 turnovers so we just wanted to keep it going," Martin explained.
The game took a physical turn in the second half but the Panthers kept their heads.
"Our coach told us not to drop down to their level," Johnson explained. "We play our game and not get too much pressure on us."
Seely finished with 16 to lead Benton while Gavin and Mackenzie Yurko added in each for the Tigers.
Northeast will a wait to see who they play in the first round of the PIAA Class A state championships next week but they plan to enjoy their third place medals in the mean time.
"I was so excited when it was over," Holbert said. "I just couldn't help but to hug everyone."