POTTSVILLE – Marian entered last night's Schuylkill League semifinal against Pine Grove as the Division 3 Champion because of what they did. However, Marian also entered last night's Schuylkill League semifinal against Pine Grove as the underdog because of what awaited them.
The first was the Cardinals significant size advantage over the Fillies.
The second was Pine Grove point guard Becky Evans.
Both played pivotal roles in helping Division 1 Champion Pine Grove claim a 47-29 victory over Marian (15-8, 9-4) last night. With the win, the Cardinals (20-3, 11-1) advance to Friday night's Schuylkill League Championship Game (6:00 p.m. at Martz Hall) against defending Schuylkill League champion Tri-Valley (a 61-49 winner over North Schuylkill in last night's other semifinal).
"We haven't been playing well lately, and we certainly didn't put forth our best overall effort tonight, but a win's a win," stated Pine Grove head coach Chris George. "I thought we shored up the defensive end tonight, but we still have a lot to work on offensively."
The Cardinals came into the game with four of their five starters 5-8 or taller, while Marian featured a starting lineup of four girls 5-5 or smaller. Pine Grove took advantage of the size mismatch by outrebounding the Fillies 39-26 and scoring most of their points in the paint.
However, Pine Grove's biggest weapon is its smallest player – 5-5 junior point guard Becky Evans.
Evans (second in the Schuylkill League averaging 19.7 points per game, just behind Minersville's Reighly Melochick at 19.8 ppg) scored only 10 points on the night, but it was her ball handling, court awareness, and ability to break down the Marian press that proved to be her biggest contribution.
"Evans is too good of a player and she did a great job of finding the open people," said Marian head coach Paul Brutto. "She did a great job passing, and a lot of that was out of double-teams, so it wasn't like she was just standing out there looking around. We pressured her as much as we could, but she just has great court awareness."
Evans scored only two points in the first half (a field goal with 35 seconds remaining until halftime), and was held to nearly 10 points below her season average.
"I was pleased with our defense against her (Evans) the whole game, but the thing that really disappoints me is how badly we are in a half-court offense," added Brutto. "We don't execute and we don't do what we practice, and that's why we have to constantly pressure teams defensively so we can try to create something easy offensively. Tonight, we just got beat by a better team."
Marian's only lead of the game came with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter off an Lindsay Nemeth basket. However, Pine Grove quickly turned the tide by going on an 8-0 run to end the quarter, which was spearheaded by the play of 5-10 sophomore Brittanie Whitman who came in off the bench.
Whitman, averaging only 1.8 points per game on the season, scored a career-high 13 points to lead Pine Grove.
"Brittanie is a young player and this season has been a process for her," added George. "This was the kind of game tonight that allowed her to be a big factor. If we're going to get trapped and pressed, we need people at the back end who can catch and finish, and she did a nice job of that tonight."
With the Fillies trailing by eight points midway through the third quarter, Whitman and Evans combined to go on a 9-0 run in just over a minute to swell the lead to 17 points (35-18) and put the game out of reach.
Sam Faust led Marian with nine points on a night the Fillies shot just 12-for-43 from the floor and 4-for-15 from the foul line. Marian also turned the ball over 19 times (while forcing 21 turnovers).
"We have a tendency to beat ourselves," concluded Brutto. "The free throw shooting was ridiculous and we missed about 6-8 fairly easy layups, and that's what we've been doing all year. It has nothing to do with the pressure of playing in a big game at Martz Hall; it's just who we are right now as a basketball team."
Felty 0-0-0-0, Sampson 1-2-2-4, Thompson 1-5-6-7, Evans 4-1-1-10, Zimmerman 2-2-3-6, Conrad 0-0-0-0, Edge 0-0-0-0, Wolff 0-0-0-0, Bertasavage 3-0-2-7, Whitman 5-3-4-13. TOTALS: 16-13-18-47.
Green 2-0-2-5, Faust 3-3-6-9, Fannick 0-0-0-0, Bray 0-0-0-0, Sofranko 1-0-0-2, Shaud 0-0-2-0, Nemeth 2-0-0-4, Mahon 1-0-0-2, Baranko 0-0-0-0, Krusinsky 3-1-5-7, Hill 0-0-0-0, Holman 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 12-4-15-29.
Pine Grove 13 7 19 8 - 47
Marian 6 6 12 5 - 29
Three-Pointers: Pine Grove - Evans 1, Bertasavage 1; Marian - Green 1.