PORT ROYAL - With its win over visiting Walnut Street Christian Friday, the Juniata Mennonite girls basketball team clinched at least a tie for the third place in the Allegheny Christian Athletic Conference with three games left to play in the season.
In the process, the Lions rallied from an 11-4 first-quarter deficit to defeat the Warriors 42-36 at the Cedar Grove gym.
Leading the way for Juniata Mennonite was Alexis Hahn-Kline, who blazed the way with a game-high 18-point effort. Teammate Lauren Breon added 12 of her own.
Early on, the shots weren't falling for the Lions, who relied on tough defensive play. Their troubles continued early in the second when they found themselves trailing 15-6.
With the game getting out of sorts, Juniata Mennonite coach Andy Meiser called a time out to change the strategy on defense.
"I think the real key to the game tonight was going to a man-to-man defense," Meiser said. "I knew their ball handling was a little weak so we went after them. Then we started to hit again and started to open the game up a little bit and I think that was key to the game."
After the time out, the Lions got the ball to long distance threat Valarie Meiser. Meiser did not disapooint as she sent a triple from beyond the arc, cutting it to 15-9.
From there, the fast break opportunistic play of the Lions came to the forefront as they went on an 8-0 run, taking their first lead since early in the first, 17-15, with 52 ticks left in the half.
The Warriors' Joy Trumbull tied the game at 17 and ended the Juniata Mennonite scoring run with 21 seconds left.
However, the Lions would get the last laugh when Breon drove through traffic and hit a runner in the lane, ending the first half with a 19-17 lead for the home team.
Still holding the hot hand after the intermission, the Lions scored the first eight points of the third. Six of those points came from fast breaks by Hahn-Kline.
The Juniata Mennonite defense bent but didn't break as it was able to hold off a late third quarter run that allowed the Warriors to cut the lead to six going into the final stanza.
In the fourth quarter, the defense remained strong early on when the Lions got the ball and built up another strong lead, 39-30, with 1:40 left.
"We had a few specific box and ones that we run. I thought we did a good job finding the weakness in their defense," Meiser said. "It was a pretty nice game despite missing some foul shots and fast break attempt. We gutted it out and found a way to win."
As the time started to run off the clock, the Warriors made one last attempt to try to catch up. However, despite closing the gap to as few as five points, the Lions defense had just enough to thwart any kind of comeback attempt as they held onto the six-point victory.
"Good teams find a way to win," Meiser said. "They're not a bad team. ... But our girls kept playing and they kept playing hard."