Baldwin Girls Stun Bethel, Make Playoffs
The Highlanders shine in a do-or-die game.
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A late 3-pointer from junior guard Nikki Corcoran may end up being the biggest shot of the season for Baldwin High School's girls basketball team, which stunned visiting Bethel Park High School, 46-38, in a WPIAL AAAA Section 4 game on Friday night.
With Baldwin clinging to a 1-point lead with fewer than two minutes left in its regular season and needing a win to make the 2013 WPIAL playoffs, Corcoran calmy stepped back and drained a 3-ball from the left wing to push the Highlanders' lead to two possessions.
Bethel Park, which came into the game with just two losses and is ranked by most experts as the No. 2 team in all of AAAA, never got closer than that the rest of the way.
"If the girl's 4 feet off me, I'm told to shoot," Corcoran said, "so I shot it."
The win allows Baldwin (10-11 overall) to finish in a tie with Upper St. Clair High School for fourth place—the last playoffs spot—in Section 4. Both of those teams have identical 5-7 section records, and since they split their regular-season series, the WPIAL is accepting both teams into the postseason.
"We definitely knew, if we lost, we were out (of the playoffs)," Corcoran said, "so we wanted it more than they did, obviously."
Bethel (18-3 overall, 10-2 Section 4) did have plenty to play for on Friday night. A win would have earned them a share of the section championship and better playoffs positioning, but Baldwin Head Coach Gavin Prosser said that his team's best effort of the season was simply enough to beat the Hawks.
"Like I told the girls, that was the most focused I've ever seen them play," Prosser said. "They were into it—defensively, offensively. Giving our pregame talk, I was looking in their eyes, and you could see they were ready to play."
The numbers back the coach up.
Baldwin jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the first quarter and led, 20-15, at halftime.
"I think something that really helped us out was changing defenses frequently," Prosser said. "It kind of slowed them (Bethel) down a little bit."
The Highlanders even stretched their lead out to 28-20 midway through the third quarter after junior forward Taylor Duchon connected on a 3-pointer.
The deep bucket got Baldwin's fans into the game, but they were quickly quieted by Bethel's freshman guard Shannon Conley, who took the ensuing possession downcourt for a hoop and a foul. Conley then made the free throw to narrow the lead back to five.
Conley's traditional 3-point play started a 9-0 run for the Hawks, who appeared to be taking the game's momentum into the fourth quarter when junior guard Elizabeth Neal hit a jumper with 44 seconds left in the third for a 29-28 lead.
But Baldwin's junior guard Amanda Johnston milked the third-quarter clock down to its final seconds before evading multiple Hawks and connecting on a tough layup as the buzzer sounded. The bucket gave Baldwin the lead and the momentum back, 30-29.
"I just saw the lane open, and I went for it," Johnston said. "Just gaining any kind of a lead just got everyone even more excited. The fans were cheering. That just made us wanna go out strong for the fourth quarter."
That seemed to apply especially to Johnston, who scored six of her game-high 18 points in the fourth, including an end-to-end layup to open the final period.
After Bethel scored the next four points to take a 33-32 lead, the Hawks got into foul trouble, putting Baldwin into the bonus with more than five minutes left.
The Highlanders were able draw many Bethel fouls by using their speed to hit the paint in full stride and took advantage by connecting on four of six free throws for a 36-33 lead.
Bethel's junior forward Samantha Simpson responded with a short jumper to cut the lead to 36-35, but that only set the stage for Corcoran's late heroics.
The Hawks then put Baldwin into the double bonus with just more than a minute left, and Baldwin took care of business from the free-throw line to seal the win.
Johnston made four straight free throws in the final 30 seconds.
"It just comes down to effort and wanting it more," Johnston said, "and we definitely wanted it tonight."
The WPIAL playoffs pairings will be revealed on Tuesday. For a Baldwin team that appears to be peaking, the timing couldn't be better.
"This is, really, the first full game that we've played all year," Prosser said. "We just gotta take a couple days, rest up, see who we're going to face and start to prepare.
"As a coach, I'm coaching for perfection. Obviously, that's darn near impossible, but that's what we strive for. That's how we coach everyday. I think we can do better, but overall, I really couldn't be much happier than I am right now.
"I'm just really proud of them."
Simpson led Bethel with 10 points.
Baldwin's scorers: Johnston (18), Corcoran (12), Amanda Larkin (6), Duchon (5), Taylor Letender (3), Carly Lutz (2).
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