Devils stun Juniata in final

LORETTO – In many ways, Saturday just wasn’t the Juniata girls basketball team’s day.

But, despite a 59-17 loss to Bellwood-Antis in the District 6 Class AA championship game at St. Francis’ DeGol Arena, in some ways, it was the Indians’ day to shine.

Despite the one-sided loss, Juniata made school history by appearing in the District 6 Class AA title game and qualifying for the PIAA tournament, and Victoria Varner made some individual history as well.

“As far as what we know, from what we’ve been able to find out, no Juniata girls team has ever played for a district championship,” Juniata coach Meghan Geedey said. “No girls team has ever played in the state tournament. So these kids have accomplished something that no other team has done.

“Even though we didn’t win, we have a very good team. We just lost to a better team tonight.”

Varner started the Indians’ lone run of the game with a jump shot with 5:48 to play in the first quarter that put her at 1,000 career points.

“I’m just so glad I got it,” Varner said. “I’m so glad I got it here with this group of teammates, because I could not have done it without them. It came the same time as we reached our team goals of making it to the district championship and the state tournament, so it’s huge.”

She finished the game tied with Joelle Winey for the team lead in points with five. Winey also had a game-high 12 rebounds.

The Blue Devils, who came up short in the district final a year ago in a loss to Blairsville, seemed determined not to let it happen again and began the game on a 9-0 run.

Juniata responded with a 7-2 spurt to close within four, but the second quarter was all Bellwood.

The Blue Devils held the Indians to just one point and extended their lead to 19 at halftime.

By the time the final buzzer sounded, Juniata had turned the ball over 32 times.

“We can defend, and we can defend the heck out of the ball,” Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney said. “That’s where it all started tonight with the pressure defense. It was just outstanding defense.”

The Indians made just three baskets and finished 11-for-25 from the free throw line.

“They are very physical,” Geedey said. “It was to the point where we were getting knocked off the ball. We found it very hard to even start our offense, and we were starting it too far away from the basket. We wanted to attack the basket, but we couldn’t get past their pressure.”

Bellwood’s Karson Swogger led all scorers with 19 points; Kelly Leamer added 11 points and Ana Hollen scored 10.

“We have worked so hard day in and day out,” Hollen said. “We really wanted this so bad. Everyone on this team works and works, and it finally paid off. I couldn’t be happier.”

Bellwood-Antis and Juniata will both play on Friday in the PIAA tournament.

The Blue Devils will take on McGuffey at a District 6 site while Juniata will play Bishop Canevin at a site to be named in District 7.

“I’m so happy we have another game,” Varner said. “We don’t have to hang our heads all offseason about this game, and now we have another game to prove ourselves.”

Juniata slipped to 21-3. The Lady Blue Devils improved to 24-2 and haven’t lost since losing both games in their season-opening tournament.

“There is no reason to hang our heads,” Geedey said. “We don’t need to worry about the score of this game. They were better than us tonight; that’s all we need to know.

“I could not be more proud of this team. No one expected us to beat Tyrone, and then no one expected us to beat Marion Center. These kids have been playing great basketball all season.”