By Rich Rhoades
CLARION — The last time, the Redbank Valley Lady Bulldogs played Curwensville in the playoffs, they had their hearts broken on a last-second shot.
Wednesday night at Clarion Area High School, the Lady Bulldogs made defensive switch to cool down a hot start by Curwensville, Brooke Hinderliter filled up the stat sheet with 22 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots and it led to satisfying 47-34 win.
Redbank Valley, now 18-6, advances to Saturday’s District 9 Class AA Championship game against defending champion Karns City at a time to be announced.
Because the district sends its finalists to states this year, the Lady Bulldogs will go for the first time since 1999. They’ve lost in two finals since in 2003 and 2004, both to Karns City, but only the champion advanced those years.
Lady Bulldogs head coach Amy Twigg played on both of those teams.
“I’m so excited about both teams going to states. It’s going to be awesome,” said Twigg. “When I played, we lost in the district championships two years in a row and we didn’t get to go to states, so I’m more than excited that win or lose we get to go to states for the first time in 15 years.”
With the Bulldogs also in Saturday’s finals, it marks the first time that both teams at the school are going to states the same season. The PIAA opener for Class AA girls is March 6. The Class AA boys open March 7.
Curwensville (17-7) beat Redbank Valley, 45-43, in the 2007 semifinals and that year the top two finishers went to states. The Lady Tide looked intent on winning the matchup again out of the gate with some hot shooting and led 15-8 after the first quarter.
But Redbank Valley’s switching to from zone to man-to-man defense made all the difference as Hinderliter, ranked third in the district in scoring, locked up the district’s leading scorer Ciara Strickland (23.2 ppg.), and it was a struggle the rest of the way for the Lady Tide.
Curwensville made 9 of its first 17 shots as Strickland scored 10 first-quarter points. From there, the Lady Tide missed 24 of their final 29 shots from the floor. Strickland misfired on 15 of her final 17 shots from the floor and finished with 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting.
“Brooke put a lot of pressure on (Strickland) and the rest of girls were playing good in man too and not allowing the other girls to get open,” Twigg said. “So they were throwing shots up that weren’t the kind they were throwing up in the first quarter.”
Heather Thorp made a highlight play with a buzzer-beating 35-foot 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter. She picked off an errant Lady Bulldogs pass and looking like she was going to not beat the clock with a drive to the basket, but Dixon threw up a line-drive shot that went in and gave Curwensville a 15-8 lead.
But the shots would mostly miss the rest of the way for the Lady Tide. Conversely, Redbank Valley missed 15 of its first 20 shots and then shot nearly 50 percent the rest of the way.
“Usually when you’re doing well on defense, it shows on offense and builds more confidence,” Twigg said. “We came out flat and needed to build confidence by moving on defense and rebounding and getting steals and then it led to the offense.”
Hinderliter, the district’s third-leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, scored 16 of her points in the second half as the Lady Bulldogs outscored Curwensville, 29-12.
Becca Dougherty joined Hinderliter in double figures with 11 points. Kaelyn Gruver just missed a double-double with eight points and 12 rebounds.
After getting out-rebounded 16-14 in the first half, the Lady Bulldogs owned the glass in the second half and wound up with a game-ending edge of 41-25.
Curwensville led 22-18 by halftime before a 15-2 Lady Bulldogs edge in the third quarter gave them their first lead since early in the game as Hinderliter and Dougherty scored 12 of those points. The Lady Bulldogs led 33-24 at the end of the third and the closest Curwensville got the rest of the way was six points at 37-31 on Thorp’s basket with 4:32 remaining.
REDBANK VALLEY 47, CURWENSVILLE 34
Score By Quarters
Redbank Valley 8 10 15 14 – 47
Curwensville 15 7 2 10 – 34
Redbank Valley – 47
Megan Bain 2-5 0-0 5, Cassie Fink 0-4 0-0 0, Becca Dougherty 5-11 2-4 12, Brooke Hinderliter 8-18 6-7 22, Kaelyn Gruver 3-6 2-4 8, Samantha Landers 0-2 0-0 0, Macy King 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 18-47 10-15 47.
Curwensville – 34
Heather Thorp 2-3 1-2 6, Hannah Dixon 5-14 1-3 11, Christine Limbert 1-5 0-2 2, Ciara Strickland 6-22 0-0 14, Shauna Guy 0-2 1-3 1. Totals: 14-46 3-10 34.
3-pointers: Redbank Valley 1-6 (Bain 1-1, Fink 0-2, Dougherty 0-2, Hinderliter 0-1), Curwensville 3-14 (Strickland 2-10, Thorp 1-1, Dixon 0-3). Rebounds: Redbank Valley 41 (Gruver 12, Hinderliter 12), Curwensville 25 (Guy 11). Turnovers: Curwensville 16, Redbank Valley 15.