CLARION — North Clarion has been here before, playing in the last four Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference Championship games.
Last year, the She-Wolves lost to A-C Valley, 38-35, ending a two-run title run in 2018 and 2017. They lost to Karns City in the 2016 final.
Meanwhile, Redbank Valley makes its first KSAC title game appearance since the format began back in 2007.
It may not have been high on the Lady Bulldogs’ checklist at the beginning of the season, but that evolved for sure.
“At the beginning of the season, we talked about striving to make the playoffs, but we did talk about the conference championship as the season progressed and halfway through the season, that was one of our goals,” said Lady Bulldogs head coach Chris Edmonds.
It wasn’t easy to hammer out a KSAC-South Division title. They clinched the title last weekend with some help from other games and they still had a division game scheduled at Moniteau Wednesday before Saturday’s final at Clarion University’s Waldo S. Tippin Gymnasium starting at 8 p.m. following the boys’ game between Clarion-Limestone and Keystone at 6 p.m.
The Lady Bulldogs were 16-5 overall and 7-2 in the KSAC-South going into Wednesday. That’s their best win total since their 15-8 season in 2015-16.
Depth has been the key. While Tara Hinderliter is certainly the focal point of the team’s offense at 22.9 points per game, the Lady Bulldogs also have Alivia Huffman (9.0 ppg.), Lauren Smith (7.2 ppg.) and Madison Foringer (5.8) leading the way in scoring along with several others who contribute in other ways than scoring.
“All season long and until now we’ve been playing anywhere up to 10 to 12 players per game,” Edmonds said. “We’ve talked about getting in getting good quality minutes to help the team. That’s something that we’ve been stressing.”
North Clarion took a 21-0 record into Wednesday’s home game with Cranberry. The She-Wolves beat the Lady Bulldogs, 70-56, in Frills Corners back on Jan. 21.
In that one, Hinderliter and Smith combined for 50 points, 28 and 22 respectively to lead the Lady Bulldogs, who couldn’t offset 10 North Clarion 3-pointers. The She-Wolves led 38-27 by halftime.
For North Clarion, Mackenzie Bauer scored 15 points and three others reached double figures with Gabby Schmader’s 13, Abby Gatesman’s 12 and Haley Sherman’s 11 points.
For the year, it’s Gatesman (14.8 ppg.), Bauer (11.7) and Sherman (10.6) averaging double figures.
“We were excited to go up to North Clarion and play them,” Edmonds said. “We thought we did pretty well in the first half and the second half got away from us, so we’re excited to face them Saturday at Tippin.”
A renovated Tippin, that is.
“We talked to the girls about it. Both me and my assistants have played their in the past, so it’s not just about the KSAC but also the playoffs,” Edmonds said.
Call it a dress rehearsal for the even bigger games ahead. The Lady Bulldogs, with a win over Moniteau Wednesday, clinches the top seed — North Clarion is Class 1A — for the upcoming Class 2A playoffs.
“Over the last two weeks and our last two home games with Clarion and Keystone, it’s been a playoff atmosphere, so I’m assuming that’ll be the same environment at Tippin,” he said.
The playoff pairings come out sometime this weekend with the playoffs beginning next week.
UNION DAMSELS HEADED TO POSTSEASON — The Union Damsels will enter the Class 1A playoffs and at 11-10 going into Wednesday’s home game with A-C Valley, it’s the most wins for the program since 2011.
Head coach Allyson Kepple’s team could be as high as a No. 5 seed in a bracket of at least seven teams.
North Clarion, of course will be the top seed in what looks to be a locked up top four spots with Coudersport, Otto-Eldred and Elk County Catholic following in spots 2 through 4.
Again, complete pairings will be announced this weekend.
The Damsels were supposed to host A-C Valley last Friday, but winter weather postponed that date until Wednesday.