Lady Spartans bend, but they don’t break against F
Laurel (43) Vs. Ford City (37)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
BUTLER — Just hold on.

That was the main thing on the minds of the Laurel High girls basketball team in the third quarter of last night’s WPIAL Class AA preliminary-round game at Butler High School.

The Lady Spartans saw an 11-point lead dissipate in the frame, but rallied in the fourth post a 43-37 win over Ford City.

“It’s amazing,” Laurel’s Brooke Dicks said. “To make it here and get a win is awesome.”

Laurel (13-9) claimed the No. 14 seed and moved on to meet third-seeded Greensburg Central Catholic on Tuesday at a time and site to be announced.

“Right now, we’re just happy to be there and to get this win,” Laurel coach Jessica Shevitz said. “I am so excited. These guys have been working since June. Thursday night, we had the best practice we have had the entire season. The kids were so ready to play this game. They wanted this. When they want something, boy, do they go after it.”

The Lady Spartans, in their first postseason appearance since 2003, took control of the game early. Jessica Conrad (seven points) and Ellen Shaffer (six) fueled Laurel to a 15-8 lead after the opening stanza. The two continued to be a force in the second quarter, especially rebounding and blocking shots, to help the Lady Spartans take a 25-18 halftime advantage.

“We were not going to get outhustled. They were bigger than us and rebounding was key,” Shevitz said. “We didn’t want to give them any second shots inside. Ellen Shaffer’s first half was the best half of her career. She was unbelievable.”

Shaffer scored four points and Rachael Baker added two in a 6-2 Laurel run to open the third. It extended the Lady Spartans’ lead to 31-20. However, Conrad was whistled for her third personal with 4:24 remaining in the frame and headed to the bench.

The Lady Sabers (14-8) embarked on a 12-0 run with Conrad not on the floor. Five Laurel turnovers led directly to Ford City baskets in that spree as the squad struggled without its leader.

“Jessica is the heart and soul of this basketball team. I joke around that, when you find that girl in 10 years, she’s going to be the CEO of some company. She knows herself and she knows her teammates so well,” Shevitz said. “I trust her. She knows the floor and understands it. When we lose her, we do lose a lot. But we weathered the storm.”

Conrad, a senior, couldn’t wait to get back on the floor.

“Partially, I was so frustrated because I didn’t’ even know what I did wrong (on the third foul) and that’s the worst part,” she said. “You just have to take it. I was trying to talk to them from the bench and give them some inspiration.”

Shaffer ended the Lady Sabers’ run when she swished a free throw with seven seconds remaining to tie the game at 32-all heading into the fourth.

“It hurts when Jessica is not on the floor,” Shaffer said. “Jessica is a leader. She sees everything and always makes good decisions. We got flustered when she did get taken out.”

Ford City grabbed a 34-32 lead 48 seconds into the fourth, but Conrad returned and Laurel turned up the defensive intensity. The squad kept the Lady Sabers scoreless for the next 7:03. Meanwhile, the Lady Spartans went on a 6-0 run to take charge. Shaffer’s hoop tied the game and Conrad had the go-ahead basket and another after a steal.

“We are a veteran group. Their patience and leadership is something that has not been there, at times, when I expected it this year,” Shevitz said. “It showed up big this game. They handled it well.”

Kristin Dicks helped seal the win as she swished five free throws in the final minute.

“I am so proud of Kristin. We rely on her for her defense,” Shevitz said. “She put the ball in when it counted. Those were big shots from the line.”

Shaffer led all scorers with 17 points, while Conrad added 13. 

“It’s such a rush of adrenaline to win,” Shaffer said. “We’ve been working so hard. We watched a lot film this week and I think we were really prepared for this game.”

Christina Davis led Ford City with 12 points. 

Game Scoreboard
Laurel 15 10 7 11 0 43
Ford City 8 10 14 5 0 37
Box Scores
Rachael Baker 1 3-4 5
Jessica Conrad 6 1-1 13
Brooke Dicks 0 1-3 1
Ellen Shaffer 7 3-4 17
Kristin Dicks 1 5-6 7
Maddie Deinert 0 0-0 0
Nicole Wade 0 0-0 0
Totals: 15 13-18 43

Bethany Meyer 2 1-2 6
Stephanie DiGregorio 2 0-1 4
Christina Davis 5 1-2 12
Allyson Cujas 3 2-6 8
Andrea DiGregorio 0 0-0 0
Catelyn Cujas 1 1-2 3
Sarah Heddinger 0 0-0 0
Tyree Freeman 2 0-0 4
15 5-13 37

LAUREL 15  10  7  11  — 43
FORD CITY 8  10   14  5 — 37

3-point goals – Ford City 2 (Meyer 1, Davis 1)
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