BINGHAMTON – A third-period burst turned a close game into a definitive victory as Horseheads defeated Seton Catholic Central 78-58 in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference girls basketball semifinals Wednesday night at Seton Catholic.
Depth made the difference as four Blue Raiders scored in double figures, paced by senior stars Marlea Nolan and Amanda Scheifen with 21 and 20 points, respectively.
But role players became what Horseheads coach Andy Scott called “difference-makers” in securing the Blue Raiders (15-3) a spot in Friday’s STAC championship game against Binghamton at Union-Endicott.
Horseheads juniors Mia Strollo and Rachel Stermer contributed 12 points each, and Scott believed they, along with sophomore Tatum Benesh, did the job keeping Seton Catholic’s speedy backcourt of Lexus Levy and Hanna Strawn in check.
“They’re the quickest guards we’ve played against,” Nolan said of the Seton Catholic duo.
Levy, a sophomore, led the Saints with 17 points. Freshman Strawn finished with nine, and senior Lauren Miller contributed 11 points.
Seton Catholic (14-3) kept it close through the first half and was down just 40-35 when Schiefen picked up her third personal foul 19 seconds into the third quarter.
“I had to be smarter with the fouls. I couldn’t get another one,” said Schiefen, who pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.
Scott kept her in the game for a bit and then subbed her out, and the rest of the team picked up the pace.
The Saints were as close as 40-37 with 7 minutes, 41 seconds left in the third. The Blue Raiders outscored them 23-10 for the rest of the quarter to take control.
Scott pointed out that Strollo, Stermer, Benesh, Marianne Cites and Jessica Schiefen all contributed to Horseheads pulling away.
“It was a huge lift for us,” Scott said. “This may have been Mia Strollo’s best game ever.”
Amanda Schiefen and Nolan agreed.
“She hit some big 3s,” Nolan said.
Seton Catholic coach Colleen Jayne thought her team couldn’t maintain its performance from the first half to the second half.
“I felt like we got outplayed,” she said. “We didn’t come out in the second half like we did in the first. We didn’t come out expecting to win. We came out trying not to lose.”
Yet she added her players kept working hard up to the end. Junior Metban Ajak and eighth-grader Julia Hauser made their presences felt down low, drawing fouls that gave them a combined eight foul shots.
Meanwhile, Horseheads will be going for its second straight STAC title. The Blue Raiders and Binghamton split their two games during the regular season. Binghamton downed Norwich 53-37 in Wednesday’s other semifinal.
On Twitter: @SGJoeMink