Homer Center fights off Serra Catholic comeback bid in Class 2A 2nd round

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Friday, March 11, 2022 | 11:21 PM


After grabbing its largest lead of the night at the end of the third quarter, the Homer Center girls basketball team looked to have things under control in its PIAA Class 2A second-round contest against Serra Catholic.

But the Eagles, like they did all night, fought and crawled their way back and made it a one-possession game with four minutes left in regulation.

Unfortunately for Serra, the Eagles ran out of time and Homer Center was clutch at the foul line late, pulling away for a 55-48 victory Friday night at Gateway High School.

“This group has a ton of heart,” Serra Catholic coach Matt Bacco said. “No girl on this team accepts losing. They are going to fight until the final whistle. They just don’t like to lose. I’m proud of my team and despite them holding a height advantage over us, I thought we were the more physical team. We definitely made sure they felt us out there in the paint.”

The Eagles (21-3) were looking for their first appearance in the PIAA quarterfinals since they defeated Farrell in the second round in 2006. That season they lost to Union-Rimersburg in the round of eight, as they were trying to defend their state championship from 2005.

Serra is 10-9 in the PIAA postseason since 2004.

“Every time in the second half when we made a run and cut it close, Homer was there and came up with a big play,” Bacco said. “They never blinked and had good composure. We just were chasing and could never get a lead in the fourth. We were outscored by eight at the free throw line, and sometimes that’s the biggest difference maker in a state playoff game.”

Brianna Battles led the Eagles with 15 points, while Caitlyn Cooley (11) and Macey McCullough (10) were in double figures. The starting five was responsible for all the points, as Chloe Pordash (8) and Catherine Clarke (4) rounded out the scoring for Serra.

The Wildcats (25-5) were led by a game-high 24 points from Macy Sardone, who had 11 points in the final quarter and was 6-for-8 at the free throw line in the final 2:06 to preserve the win.

Marlee Kochman was also in double figures with 10 points for Homer, which will now play District 6 rival Bellwood Antis in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

Serra opened the second half with a 7-2 run and trimmed the deficit to 25-24 after a pair of foul shots by Pordash at the 5:27 mark of the third quarter.

Homer rebounded with a rally of its own, as the District 6 champions compiled nine unanswered points and stretched its lead to 34-24 after a putback hoop by Sardone off a missed free throw with 2:45 left in the third. The Wildcats led 40-28 at the end of three.

The rally for Serra started with a three-point play by Battles in the opening seconds of the fourth. After two foul shots by Homer, the Eagles went on a 9-0 spree that was started with a trey from McCullough and ended with a basket by the senior guard that made it 42-40.

Sardone had a response for the Wildcats with a 3-pointer, Homer’s only made trey in the game, and then the Wildcats scored six of the next 10 points to push its edge to 51-44.

Cooley collected two hoops late, but Sardone hit enough of her shots from the charity stripe to end any hopes of a comeback for the Eagles.

“They fought their tails off in that fourth quarter,” Bacco said. “We wanted to get their big girl away from the basket with hopes of that opening the lane for us. They put pressure on us, but we were able to break it pretty easy. We started our dribble-drive offense and got some good flow on offense. We just ran out of time and they hit their foul shots.”

Homer started the game on a 6-0 run, but Serra responded with two baskets by Clarke and a layup by Cooley. Cooley added a free throw for the Eagles, but the Wildcats scored two buckets from Kochman and Sardone to push their lead to 10-7 at the end of one.

After the Wildcats tallied the opening three points of the second stanza, the Eagles bounced back with an 8-2 spree that tied things up at 15-15. The teams traded hoops on their next possessions, but Homer grabbed the late momentum in the first half with the final six points.

Homer led Serra, 23-17, at halftime.

Serra will only lose three seniors — McCullough, Pordash and Callie Cunningham — but will return a core for the 2022-23 campaign.

“It was good to see our kids play on their toes tonight and not on their heels,” Bacco said. “Both teams played good defense and I thought 50 was the magic number tonight. Our kids never put their heads down. We lose a couple of key seniors, but we had a lot of sophomores put up quality minutes this season. We are also going to get some size back. I really like our chances.”

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