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March 3, 2013

Sharpsville, Hickory girls advance to the PIAA playoffs

---- — The Sharpsville and Hickory girls basketball teams advanced to the PIAA playoffs on Saturday by winning consolation games.

Sharpsville beat Mercer for the 3rd time this season, 48-29, at Farrell High School to advance to the Class AA playoffs while Hickory defeated Mercyhurst Prep, 50-43, in Class AAA at Meadville Area Senior High School’s “House of Thrills.”

Following are staff reports:

CLASS AA CONSOLATION

ä Sharpsville 48, Mercer 29 —
At Farrell’s E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium, the Blue Darlings defeated Mercer for the 3rd time this season; thereby, Sharpsville secured a PIAA playoff berth as the district’s 3rd seed.

“Wow, this feels great!” admitted veteran Sharpsville skipper Jeff Hanley. “We had a couple nice practices after we lost to North East (42-38 in the semifinals), and I was proud with how they responded.

“The girls were confident, and they were led by our seniors. ... They played great defense (coercing 18 Mercer miscues) and followed what we wanted to do on offense really well,” Hanley added.

One of Hanley’s senior stalwarts, McKenzie Popatak, produced a game-high 30-point, 11-rebound double-double.

From the paint Popatak pumped in 10 first-period points while Mercer made 7 miscues and missed 8 of 10 floor shots, as Sharpsville surged to a 15-5 lead. With Popatak producing 8 second-period points and Mercer mustering only 2 — the Lady M’s drought lasted approximately 10 minutes, as Megan McKinney scored with 68 seconds remaining to intermission — the Blue Darlings derived a 23-7 halftime bulge.

Popatak and Megan Davis, with 8 and 6 points, respectively, staked Sharpsville to a 37-20 lead through 3 quarters, though Lexie Arkwright annexed 6 of her team-high 14 points. Arkwright added 10 rebounds for a double-double.

In addition to Popatak, Davis drilled 2 treys and scored 9 points while snaring 7 caroms; Paige Scurpa — whose defense limited leading scorer Arkwright to 3 first-half points on only 4 shots — and Madison Przicina evenly divided a dozen rebounds, and Natalie Henwood handed out 7 assists. Scurpa added 3, also.

Sharpsville (17-8) started the season 2-5, but Hanley assessed,

“We felt pretty good. The start wasn’t important. The first region (2-AA) game was Middlesex, and that was the important thing. Once we got rolling in our region and felt more confident and comfortable, I thought we were in good shape.”

The Blue Darlings have won 15 of their last 18 outings.

Meanwhile, Mercer (17-8) made a complete turnabout from last season. Second-year Lady’s M mentor Aaron Cook said,

“I gotta give it to Sharpsville; they outplayed us in every aspect. But the bottom line is I am not disappointed at all. We went from 6-16 to 17-8, and the transformation was unbelievable!. It happened in the offseason.

“The future’s bright for us. If we work hard, we’re gonna give people some fits next year,” Cook confided, noting he loses a pair of seniors in Ashley Ryder and Analise Whenry.

“Analise Whenry was absolutely dynamic. I had her the last two years — same with Ashley Ryder. Ashley played very consistent, and Analise played big for us, ’cause we didn’t have height. Both of them had to be our height and our strength, and we’re gonna miss ’em next year because of that,” Cook praised.  

CLASS AAA CONSOLATION

ä Hickory 50, Mercyhurst Prep 43 —
At Meadville Area Senior High’s “House of Thrills,” coach Jeanette Whitehead’s Lady Hornets (21-4) advanced to the state playoffs with the win against the Lady Lakers (16-9).

Hickory led 17-12 after the 1st quarter, 28-19 at halftime and took its biggest lead (12 points) midway through the 3rd quarter. But Mercyhurst Prep closed the quarter on a 10-0 run to cut Hickory’s lead to 37-35.

At the start of the 4th, Prep’s Emily Stoicovy drained a 3-pointer to give the Lady Lakers their 1st lead of the game (38-37). However Hickory’s Holly Grober took charge and scored her team’s first 9 points of the quarter and Nikki Arbanas buried 4 key foul shots in the final minute to put the game away.

Arbanas fired in 22 points and had 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists for Hickory, while Grober scored 18 and grabbed 6 boards, dished out 3 assists and had 2 blocks. Also, Megan Chess and Brandi Beader had 3 steals each.

“After losing in the semis (to Villa Maria), we knew it was a do-or-die situation to get to the state games,” said Whitehead. I thought we came out focused, ready and determined.

“I take my hat off to the girls. They played a solid game on both ends of the floor. Every second counted for those girls on the floor, and we had great contributions off the bench from Shawna Moore and Jenna Placzek. We also had great defense from Beader, Chess and Jasmine Shephard to help maintain that balance with Nikki and Holly’s scoring. If we can deliver that balance, we are certainly a team to be reckoned with.”

Stoicovy led Mercyhurst Prep with 9 points while Chloé Wright bucketed 8. Brenna Robbins, a Division I Longwood University (Va.) recruit had 7 points for the Lady Lakers.

Hickory will play WPIAL Class AAA champion South Park (23-2) on Saturday at a site and time to be determined. South Park beat Elizabeth Forward (50-32) Saturday for the title at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center.

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