By Ryan Briggs
For The Herald
CLARION — While it might lack the over-the-top drama of a classic rags-to-riches story, the in-season turnaround of the Sharpsville High School girls basketball team still makes for a pretty good read.
Friday night, the Blue Devils added another chapter to their 2012-13 memoir by rallying for a 38-32 victory over District 9 champion Brookville (13-13) in the opening round of the PIAA Class AA Championship Tournament at Clarion University’s Waldo S. Tippin Gymnasium.
Sharpsville (18-8), which started the season 2-5, will now face District 7 representative Burrell (23-3) in the western quarterfinals Tuesday night.
“I can’t say enough about these girls,” Sharpsville head coach Jeff Hanley said. “We’re very excited to be in the final 16 in the state.”
Sharpsville jumped out to a 9-2 lead after one quarter but saw that lead evaporate in the third quarter when Brookville’s Elaina Powell hit a three-pointer to give the Blue Raiders a 20-19 lead with two minutes left.
Brookville led 22-20 in the closing moments of the third period but Blue Devil senior guard Natalie Henwood drilled a three-pointer that put Sharpsville ahead to stay.
Early in the fourth quarter, Henwood hit her second three-pointer of the game, pushing the lead to 26-22. Brookville quikly cut the lead in half but on Sharpsville’s next possession, Megan Davis received Henwood’s inbounds pass and drilled a three-pointer from the left corner that boosted the lead to 29-24.
“Natalie stepped up big for us,” Hanley said. “She also had some big defensive rebounds down the stretch for us. She’s our leader and we follow her.”
Sharpsville led 31-27 when Henwood tracked down a loose ball and threw a pinpoint outlet to senior McKenzie Popatak. Popatak’s layup extended the lead to six with 1:20 remaining.
Popatak then helped sew up the win by hitting four straight free throws in the final minute. She led all scorers with 20 points.
“McKenzie did a great job,” Hanley said. “She was very patient inside tonight.”
Brookville entered Friday night’s game featuring three players who averaged double figures in scoring. Lanae Newsome, a 12 points-per-game scorer, led the Blue Raiders with 14 points.
However, Sharpsville limited the other two double-digit scorers, Aisha Newsome and Karly Reinsel, to just 11 combined points. Each player entered the game averaging 11 points per game.
The Blue Devils frequently switched between their customary man-to-man defense and a 3-2 zone defense that often featured rangy 5-foot-9 senior Paige Scurpa up top.
“I had a feeling that this would be more of a defensive game,” Hanley said. “We played zone, which took us out of our comfort zone. The girls responded well to us mixing up our man, zone and trap.”
Sharpsville has won 15 of its 18 games since the 2013 calendar year began.
“This team really came together over the last six weeks,” Hanley said. “I’m so proud of them. I feel fortunate to be their coach.”
Notes: Sharpsville is allowing just 33 points per game in the postseason. … Brookville did not attempt a foul shot until 3:07 remained in the game. … Sharpsville had just seven fouls in the game. … Popatak now has 1,680 career points and is sixth all-time on the Mercer County girls scoring list. … Burrell defeated District 6 entry Bellwood-Antis (24-4) 65-43 Friday night at Plum High School.
PIAA CLASS AA PLAYOFFS
SHARPSVILLE 9 6 8 15 38
BROOKVILLE 2 8 12 10 32
SHARPSVILLE — Davis 3-1-2-8, Przicina 1-1-2-3, Popatak 5-10-13-20, Scurpa 0-1-2-1, Henwood 2-0-0-6, Kurelko 0-0-0-0. 3-point goals: Henwood 2, Davis 1. Totals: 11-13-19-38.
BROOKVILLE — Ray 0-0-0-0, A. Newsome 1-0-0-3, Deal 0-0-0-0, Hill 2-0-0-4, L. Newsome 6-0-0-14, Reinsel 3-2-3-8, Powell 1-0-0-3. 3-point goals: L. Newsome 2, Powell 1. Totals: 13-2-3-32.