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Juniata’s comeback attempt fizzles late

Turnovers, hot shooting dooms Indians

Sentinel photo by MIKE GOSS
Juniata’s Mackenzie Bennett puts up a shot surrounded by Fairfield defenders Friday in Mifflintown.

MIFFLINTOWN — The Juniata High School girls basketball team was firing on all cylinders early but the Indians once again couldn’t escape their third-quarter demons as a 10-point lead evaporated and the Fairfield Green Knights topped Juniata, 56-46, in a non-league girls basketball contest on Friday night.

Juniata (3-15) led 22-12 with four minutes left in the opening half and carried a 24-20 lead into the locker room, but it was Fairfield who came out red-hot in the second half.

The Green Knights (5-13) hit three shots from behind the arc in the third quarter, including two from Maddie Neiderer to lead Fairfield to a 21-point explosion in the frame. Neiderer finished with a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 14 boards while Breana Valentine had a game-high 18 points, seven steals and six rebounds for Fairfield.

Juniata’s Cora Musser scored a team-high 13 points including eight points in the first while Mackenzie Bennett scored six of Juniata’s 12 points in the third to help the Indians build an early lead.

Turnovers mounted in the third quarter for the Indians, as Juniata turned the ball over 11 times in the third quarter alone and a 9-2 run by the Green Knights proved costly.

“We kind of got away from our game plan as far as that went,” Juniata coach Mike Smith said. “Their press was making us do some silly stuff. I think after this year and gaining some experience — all these kids are young and aren’t used to playing this many minutes on the court — I’m looking for some good things next season.”

The Green Knights began to chip away at the Indians lead after the break as Madison Cromwell hit a three with 5:45 left in the third before Valentine stole the ball at the top of the 3-point arc and escaped for an easy layup in transition to give the Green Knights a 30-26 advantage. Valentine added another steal and a layup to increase the advantage to 37-28 with 2:42 left in the quarter.

Neiderer scored 13 of her points in the second half and hit three shots from 3-point range for Fairfield. The Green Knights also took advantage of extra opportunities throughout the game as Fairfield hit the glass hard and had a fair number of second-chance points.

“(Neiderer) was just stroking them,” Smith said. “We let her open a couple times. Second-chance rebounds have been our dagger this year. We play great defense, and they get a second chance, and we lose momentum. It’s been that way. We’ll get there.”

Juniata fought its way back into the game in the fourth, Starting the quarter on a 10-4 run before the Indians ran out of steam. The Indians willed themselves back into the game by getting to the free-throw line, as they hit five shots from the line to close the gap.

A three by Musser cut the Fairfield lead to 43-41 with 5:56 left to play, and a jumper by Musser later in the quarter cut the lead to just one.

“I’ve been waiting for her to show what she has,” Smith said. “I know that she has it, she’s just a little shy sometimes. She is an absolute terrific kid. Always hustling hard. It was nice to see.”

From there the Green Knights closed the door, as the Indians went ice-cold from the floor. Fairfield led 50-46 entering the final minute. Bennett brought the ball up the floor and drove to the rim and absorbed contact under the basket with 46 seconds left but she didn’t get a whistle as Juniata’s comeback fell short.

The Green Knights hit their free throws late, converting 6-of-7 free throws in the fourth. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Neiderer with 10 seconds left proved to be the dagger.

Talon Walton finished with eight points, 14 rebounds and five assists for Juniata, while Chloe Beckenbaugh also chipped in eight points.

While the season ends on a sour note for the Indians, Smith is excited to see what his young team can accomplish next season as players gain experience. The Indians return a strong core of players next season.

“There were a series of things that we did wrong that we could have done better,” Smith said. “We saw a lot of positive things from a lot of players that don’t play normally. It’s all about the future at this point.”

Fairfield 56, Juniata 46

FAIRFIELD

Breana Valentine 7 2-2 18, Maddie Neiderer 6 2-4 17, Madison Cromwell 2 0-0 6, Kira Weikert 2 2-2 6, Braidan Wastler 2 1-2 5, Emma Dennison 1 0-0 2, Kayleigh Bollinger 0 0-0 0, Emma Battern 0 0-0 0, Ellie Snyder 0 0-0 0, Maddie Fulgham 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 7-10 — 56.

3-point goals: Neiderer 3, Valentine 2, Cromwell 2.

JUNIATA

Cora Musser 6 0-0 13, Mackenzie Bennett 4 1-3 9, Talon Walton 3 2-2 8, Chloe Beckenbaugh 4 0-0 8, Mariska Beward 2 0-0 4, Shalelyn Armstrong 1 2-5 3. Totals: 20 5-10 — 46.

3-point goals: Bennett 2, Musser.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

FAIR 12-8-21-15 — 56

JUN 12-12-10-12 — 46

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