JOHNSTOWN — With four starters missing out the lineup due to injuries or foul trouble, the Portage girls basketball team had just one senior on the floor in the final seconds of the WestPAC title game Friday against Windber.
Trailing by one point, Portage coach Lance Hudak was jumping up and down on the sideline, begging for his team to intentionally foul in an attempt to stop the clock. But with neither team receiving the message fast enough, Portage didn't foul until there was just 1.5 seconds left on the clock. At that point, it was too little, too late as the Mustangs fell in the title game to Windber, 40-37.
“At a certain point, you have to foul,” Portage coach Lance Hudak said. “It’s just this atmosphere and not even hearing all of us screaming ‘foul.’... You have to foul and stop the clock, because we were only down one at that point. But those were also young kids we had out there at the end, and they were mostly sophomores and juniors. That was their first big game here at UPJ, but they’re going to learn from that and get better.”
Portage was forced to play without several bona-fide players such as Maddy Hudak, Lauren Shaffer and Jenna Burkett, who all suffered season-ending injuries earlier in the year. In the final minutes of the game, Portage was also without senior leader Sydni Sossong, who scored 10 points but fouled out late.
Windber took advantage from the onset and jumped to an early lead, forcing Portage to play catch-up. Struggling to set up the offense and forcing too many shots, the Mustangs fell into an early 10-4 hole and were in desperate need of a spark.
After switching a few things up on offense, Portage battled back in the second quarter, utilizing seven points from senior Sydni Sossong, and kept the game within two points in the third with a 12-5 run.
“Coming in, we knew we had to drive (Portage) off that three-point line,” Windber coach Cory Pavolsky said. “You almost have to take your chances with them driving to the basket and forcing them into contested shots.”
Portage (18-5) found itself down by six midway through the fourth quarter, and it appeared that the game was starting to fall out of reach as the Mustangs struggled to convert on numerous shot attempts.
Portage didn’t quit, however, and it used clutch contributions from a pair of underclassmen to get the team back into it. With the game on the wire, Alex Chobany and Brooke Bednarski both tickled the twine to cut the deficit to just one with 45 seconds remaining in regulation.
Without being fouled, Windber was able to chew nearly 20 seconds off the clock in the final minute of the game. Two successful foul shots made it a three-point game, and Portage heaved the ball up at the buzzer, but the attempt was well short as the Ramblers walked away with the conference title.
“The effort these girls gave tonight just makes me super proud as a coach,” Hudak said. “That’s what keeps me going -- when you have kids that love this sport and their school so much that they’re going to give everything that they have, every night.”