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Holding On: Karns City Survives Late Moniteau Rally to Punch Ticket to the KSAC Girls Basketball Tournament

WEST SUNBURY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Earlier this season, Karns City girls basketball coach Steve Andreassi was perplexed when looking at the stat sheet at the end of a loss.

Zero shot attempts by his post players.

(Above photo by Holly Mead)

He did a double-take. That couldn’t be right, he thought.

It was. And he knew that couldn’t continue.

So the Gremlins went to work and focused on getting the ball into the paint by any means necessary.

Since that eureka moment, Karns City has won six of its last seven games, including perhaps its biggest victory of the season, a 47-37 road triumph over rival Moniteau Tuesday night.

“Ever since that game (with zero shots in the post) we’ve been working on our post presence, getting it in, kicking it out and our dribble-drive,” Andreassi said. “Tonight we did everything. We did it all.”

The stakes were high — games between the Gremlins and Warriors are always a little more important — but this one was a de facto Keystone Shortway Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal game.

The winner moved on to the four-team KSAC tourney on Thursday.

Karns City wasted little time asserting itself, building a 24-9 lead with three minutes remaining in the second quarter.

The Gremlins led 30-11 just a little 90 seconds into the second half and were up 42-24 with five minutes remaining in the game.

“Very disappointing,” said Moniteau coach Dee Arblaster. “They came ready to play and we did not. Period. End of discussion.”

By the time Moniteau turned it on, going on a 13-1 run to close the gap to 43-37, it was a case of too little, too late.

But it had Andreassi and the Gremlins staring at the clock and wringing their collective hands.

Karns City went into its stall game with that 18-point lead.

“I wanted to start freezing it in the third quarter,” joked Andreassi. “I wanted to go it it with about three minutes to go in the game, but we went to it a little bit too soon.

“We were a little sloppy trying to salt the game away,” he added. “I have to be honest, we worked on that last night, and it’s hard to work on something like that until you’re actually in it. We had our moments, then we had our bad moments.”

What really keyed Moniteau’s comeback attempt was the Warriors’ hot shooting from behind the arc.

After going 2 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half, Moniteau hit four straight 3s in the fourth.

Freshman Sophia Fleeger hit two of them and Victoria Pry and Abbey Jewart also drained 3s to give the rally some real life.

(Rossi McMillen was named the Hager Paving Incorporated Player of the Game)

But Rossi McMillen and Brooke Manuel put the game away late in the fourth by going 4 of 4 from the free throw line in the final 38 seconds.

“You can only advance like this if you make your foul shots,” Andreassi said.

Manuel, one of those forgotten post players earlier in the season, scored 15 points to lead the Gremlins. McMillen added 13.

McMillen was everywhere — literally.

She played inside, outside, handled the ball, got some steals, rebounds and blocks. She scored from every level and played strong, unrelenting defense.

McMillen was particularly effective driving the lane.

“It’s exciting, because I don’t always go to the hoop enough,” McMillen said. “I knew if I missed, the posts were there to back me up.”

Karns City, the second-place team in the Large School Division, will take on North Clarion, which beat Union Tuesday night, 48-41, to win the KSAC Small School Division title, at 6 p.m. Thursday at Clarion University in the semifinals.

“I’m very excited to play at Clarion University,” McMillen said. “We brought a lot of momentum into this game.”

Union will take on Large School champion Redbank Valley at 8.

Victoria Pry, who had to switch from jersey No. 32 to No. 24 after getting her nose bloodied in the first quarter, led Moniteau with 12 points.

Pry is the only senior on the Moniteau roster. She started with four sophomores.

“You get every ounce of energy she has, no matter what,” Arblaster said. “She’s made a big jump in her role as a leader.”

Jewart and Catherine Kelly each added eight.

To Andreassi, playing in the KSAC tournament is invaluable for his young roster, especially with the District 9 playoffs looming after.

It’s also a good warmup for the district playoffs and a chance for the Gremlins to keep building momentum.

“We put our backs against the wall and asked, ‘What’s it gonna be?’” Andreassi said of the struggles at times this season. “We have this chance. Let’s just do it. Our seniors led the charge.”