Friday favorite

MIFFLINTOWN – In the third of three straight Friday meetings between Tri-Valley League rivals Juniata and East Juniata, the Indians did what they’ve been doing in the TVL all season – win.

But the start of this game was vastly different than the previous two games between the cross-county schools. Whereas Juniata had the game packed away in the first quarter of the last two games, this game, which had a final score of 46-26, was knotted up at 15-15 after the first eight minutes.

In fact, after some hard work including two 3-point goals from East Juniata’s Lauren Maguire and some help from Kasi Horning, the Tigers had a 12-6 lead near the middle of the first.

From there, Juniata slowly chipped away at the lead until Carly Burns hit one from beyond the arc to tie it at 13-13, and one bucket from each team later, the quarter ended.

“We talked all week about how the first quarter killed us the first two games,” East Juniata coach Travis Quici said. But this week he got to say something different about the first quarter: “We came out and played punch for punch with them.”

Yet, if the Tigers were hanging right with the Indians in the first quarter, it wasn’t meant to last for long.

In the second, the Indians outscored the Tigers 10-3. And it was with this lead that Juniata took the game and never looked back.

In the previous two games, Juniata’s full court press gave East Juniata trouble. Friday, the Tigers broke it in the first and kept the game close. But starting in the second, Juniata switched to half-court man defense, and that was a tough transition for the Tigers to match.

“Defensively, when we go half-court man, we want to shut people down, rebound and play our game,” Juniata coach Meghan Geedey said. And that’s exactly what Juniata did.

Although the second quarter had a slow start – neither team scored until the 4:00 mark – the Indians’ new defense kept the Tigers at bay while they waited for the offense to kick in.

Quici identified the swing point of the quarter accurately.

“We had a chance there in the second quarter to make something happen, but we missed two layups and they had a three and a layup. You go down two to down seven. It’s just hard to bounce back from,” he said.

With the 25-18 lead established at the half, the rest of the game belonged to the Indians as they continued to pull away from the Tigers.

In the third, although both teams hit a bucket right away, it was Juniata which kept the scoring hot, as Joelle Winey started finding more success in the paint.

In the fourth, East Juniata didn’t hit a single bucket, relying completely on free throws for its four fourth-quarter points. Burns scored all six of Juniata’s fourth-quarter points.

“First quarter we played well – matching them punch for punch – and we had some opportunities even there in the third quarter, but we just couldn’t execute,” Quici said.

And he was right – what the game really came down to was execution. Unfortunately for East Juniata, it was the Indians who executed more consistently.

In the first half of the game, it was perimeter shooting which kept Juniata alive. Three-point goals from Janelle Swartz, Victoria Varner and Burns were crucial to get the Indians’ offense started, and then in the second half work in the paint from Burns and Joelle Winey kept the points rolling.

“It’s all about having good players. I can’t tell you how balanced this team is, and I think all year we’ve proved it, and I think tonight we proved it even more. Different kids stepped up at different crucial moments of this game. And even if it wasn’t stepping up scoring, it was stepping up rebounding or defending or tying up loose balls. I can’t say enough to credit my kids,” Geedey said.

But if Juniata’s more consistent execution was key to the Indians success, lack of consistency was one of East Juniata’s main struggles.

In the second, third and fourth, East Juniata only scored 11 points, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to see how this was detrimental to the Tigers’ game.

“We ran out of gas,” Quici said, explaining how difficult it is to keep up with a team of Juniata’s caliber all four quarters.

However, Quici did mention a few individual performances of which he was proud, mentioning the leadership Maguire displayed in the first quarter and Horning’s scoring potential.

“Kasi had a fantastic game tonight. It was great to see her making some shots. She brings some great energy,” he said.

In fact, Horning led the Tigers in scoring with nine points. Maguire chipped in with eight.

For the Indians, Burns led the way with 15. She was followed by Winey with 12 and Swartz with 10.

East Juniata’s JV team won its game, 18-8.

The Tigers (6-5, 4-2) travel to Greenwood Tuesday. Juniata (10-1, 6-0) travels to Halifax the same day.