TYRONE - The Juniata girls basketball team had three goals at the beginning of this season: win the Juniata County Christmas Tournament, win the Tri-Valley League title and win its first district game.
Tuesday, when the Indians topped Penn Cambria in the first round of District 6 Class AA action, they checked off the third item on that list. On Saturday, however, the No. 5 Indians found out the hard way that there would be no glory beyond the pre-established goals this season, as a 49-25 loss to No. 4 Blairsville in the quarterfinals ended Juniata's season.
The short version of the story - and really there is no long one - is that Juniata was simply out-shot, out-rebounded and outrun by a more athletic Blairsville team.
Champions of the Heritage Athletic Conference, with their superior speed and athleticism, the Bobcats successfully threw a damper on any high the Indians might have been feeling after getting their first district win in many years.
Of course, failing to score a single point in the second quarter didn't help the Indians' cause, either.
After pretty much hanging with Blairsville to the tune of a 17-10 score at the end of the first, the wheels fell off for Juniata in the second quarter when Blairsville took advantage of Juniata turnovers and missed shots to edge the Indians 12-0 in the quarter, resulting in a 29-10 lead at the half.
"You can't dig yourself a hole against good teams. You just can't. And that's exactly what happened," Juniata coach Meghan Geedey said.
"We missed shots we don't usually miss for whatever reason. But it's just one of those things where the shots didn't fall," she said. "They're a very good team. I thought if we could keep the game in the 40s that we'd be in the game."
And of course the Indians did keep the game in the forties - which is impressive considering that Blairsville averages around 70 points per game - but Juniata's typically potent offense didn't have its sting Saturday, effectively foiling any plans the team might have had for advancing to the next round of the tournament.
Blame it on Blairsville's trap - which gave Juniata fits most of the game, especially the second quarter - or blame it on easy missed shots throughout, but Juniata gave the ball away too many times to keep up with Blairsville's fast-paced style of play.
"There's no doubt about it. That team's extremely athletic. They're athletic at every position, so that definitely makes it a tough match up. Teams like that force you to play faster than you want to play, so that could be part of missing those shots, too," Geedey said.
Geedey further explained that she felt the quickened pace affected her team's offensive flow, making it difficult for her shooters to get in any kind of groove.
"Except for maybe in the run we made in the beginning of third quarter, I don't think we were ever really in a comfortable flow offensively," she said.
In the third-quarter run Geedey referenced, Juniata went on an offensive flurry in the first five minutes of the quarter to reduce the Bobcats' lead from 29-10 to 31-19, but this minor success was short lived as Blairsville had an offensive resurgence later in the quarter that restored the big margin, putting the score at 40-21 going into the fourth.
It was three buckets from Maddie Zendt, who led the Indians in scoring with 11, a three from Janelle Swartz and a two-pointer from Carly Burns that completed the Indians' third-quarter scoring.
In the fourth quarter, Blairsville mostly played a game of keep away until the clock ran down, making the score 49-25 at the final buzzer.
Blairsville's Mackenzie Livingston had a game-high 16 points and teammate Chelsey Koren chipped in with 11. On average, both of these athletes score about five points more per game, so Juniata was successful in keeping those two at least partially at bay.
"We were getting defensive stops, but we just had some trouble scoring," Geedey said.
In the end, despite the disappointment of the loss, Geedey gave a lot of credit to her team for reaching every goal it set, and is looking forward to what next year's team will have to offer. This year's entire starting lineup will be back in rotation next year, so Geedey is hoping the team will use Saturday's loss as motivation for improvement during the off season.
"We're going to remember what we feel right now, and we're going to use that to help drive us in the off season," she said. "If every single person that we have coming back gets better, we'll be in great shape again next year."
The Tri-Valley League's undefeated champion ends the season with a 21-3 overall record.