By Rich Rhoades
CLARION — You won’t get an argument from the Punxsutawney Lady Chucks that defense wins championships.
Shooting a wretched 13.9 percent (5-for-36) in the first half and just 22.6 percent (12-for-53) overall, the Lady Chucks never trailed and won their first District 9 Class AAA championship since their run of five straight titles ended in 2006 with a 39-29 win over Bradford Friday night at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium.
Since then, the Lady Chucks (16-7) had lost in five championship games in eight years. Most of those came as underdogs, including the last two seasons during Bradford’s three-year run at the top.
“Any time you win is sweet whether you’re the favorite or underdog,” Lady Chucks head coach Randy Reitz, whose team beat Bradford by 30 at home and then by just one Feb. 13 in Bradford. “There were a couple times there where we had some tough competition. St. Marys was good. Bradford had a good run the last three or four years and now hopefully it’s our turn for the next three or four years.”
Next up for Punxsutawney are the state playoffs on March 7 against the WPIAL third seed, either Elizabeth Forward or Chartiers Valley.
The Lady Chucks’ third win over Bradford started and ended with defense as the Lady Chucks forced a whopping 29 turnovers, or the same amount of points scored by Bradford. In the first half, Punxsutawney forced 19 turnovers which helped them lead 17-12 despite horrible shooting.
“We’ve struggled shooting the ball a lot this winter,” Reitz said. “Our defense has kept us in a lot of ball games and it was the same thing in the first half tonight. We had good shots, good looks but weren’t able to put them in. Our def pressure was very good in full-court and we caused some turnovers and held them to 12 points. We felt pretty good going into halftime. If we could make a few shots and play that same defense, we knew that Bradford would have to play a perfect second half.”
Jensen Constantino scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds to lead the Lady Chucks. Anna Horner scored eight points and Alyssa Reitz finished with seven points. Punxsutawney was playing without one of its top scorers in junior forward Hope Bridge, who was out with a foot injury.
Constantino scored six of her eight second-half points in the third quarter to help put away a Bradford rally that got the Lady Owls within 17-16. Bri Wells nailed a three at the 6:31 mark, but the Lady Chucks responded with an 8-0 run that gave them a 25-16 advantage by the 2:19 mark of the third. Punxsutawney led 31-21 at the end of the quarter.
Bradford got back to within six points at 35-29 with 1:14 left in the game, but that’s as close as it got as the Lady Chucks won their title.
Kamryn Piscitelli scored 12 points for the Lady Owls, who finished 6-17. Bri Wells finished with nine points and eight rebounds. Bradford actually outshot Punxsutawney, going 10-for-29 from the field for 34.5 percent, but the Lady Chucks’ 20 points off Bradford’s 29 turnovers was the stat that mattered most.
“Our defense, we’ve been confident all year,” Reitz said. “We move, we talk and communicate and are in the right areas rotating and checking out and we’re going to have to do that next Saturday (against Chartiers Valley or Elizabeth Forward) because they’re going to be bigger than us and hit the boards.”
PUNXSUTAWNEY 39, BRADFORD 29
Score By Quarters
Bradford 4 8 9 8 – 29
Punxsy 8 9 14 8 – 39
Bradford – 29
Morgan Roggenbaum 1-3 0-0 3, Lee Woodmansee 0-2 0-0 0, Raya Hennigan 0-1 0-0 0, Bri Wells 3-7 2-2 9, Rylee Lundgren 1-5 3-4 5, Kamryn Piscitelli 5-8 2-4 12, Brandilyn Mealy 0-0 0-0 0, Rachel Borland 0-0 0-0 0, Brinya Moffet 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 10-29 4-6 29.
Punxsutawney – 39
Alyssa Reitz 2-10 1-2 7, Shaina Painter 1-5 2-2 4, Nicole Dipietro 1-7 2-4 5, Jensen Constantino 4-16 4-4 12, Allie Fye 0-4 1-2 1, Ivy Ferko 0-1 0-0 0, Anna Horner 3-6 0-0 8, Emma White 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 12-53 10-14 39.
3-pointers: Bradford 5-12 (Wells 2-2, Piscitilli 2-4, Roggenbaum 1-1, Woodmansee 0-2, Hennigan 0-1, Lundgren 0-2), Punxsutawney 5-23 (Reitz 2-9, Horner 2-5, DiPietro 1-6, White 0-1, Painter 0-2). Rebounds: Punxsutawney 34 (Constantino 6, Fye 6), Bradford 28 (Wells 8). Turnovers: Bradford 29, Punxsutawney 16.