SCRANTON — Grace Evans didn’t step to the free-throw line for the first time until the fourth quarter, and had only previously attempted four foul shots all season.
But the senior guard came through in the clutch by knocking down six consecutive free throws in the final 23 seconds to seal Abington Heights’ 39-34 win over West Scranton in the quarterfinals of the District 2 Class 5A girls basketball playoffs Feb. 22 at Scranton High School.
Evans reflected back on many hours spent in the gym as she focused on the rim.
“We practice those situations all the time,” she said. “I felt very prepared.”
The sixth-seeded Lady Comets (12-11) will play second-seeded Crestwood (15-8) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at Wilkes University.
Abington Heights started fast, scoring 13 of the game’s first 16 points before West Scranton’s Destiny Jefferson scored seven straight to pull the Lady Invaders within three points heading to the second quarter.
Senior Nicole Getz scored six of her eight points in the first quarter for Abington Heights.
“I just wanted to start off as good as possible so we could have a lead,” Getz said. “We didn’t want the season to end tonight. We knew we could beat them if we followed the game plan.”
Abington Heights junior guard Hannah Kowalski, who finished with a game-high six assists, felt Getz’s jumpers gave the team a boost.
“I think it pumps everyone up anytime Nicole (Getz) hits a shot, especially because of all the injuries she’s been through,” Kowalski said. “It gave us all a lot of motivation and energy.”
Both teams struggled to generate much success on offense in the second quarter. They combined to shoot 2 for 21 from the field and score just six points.
Abington Heights senior guard Nicole Nealon hit a 3-pointer two minutes into the quarter and Jefferson, who scored a game-high 22 points, nailed a 3-pointer to end the Lady Invaders scoring drought with 1:41 left in the first half.
Jefferson also scored seven of West Scranton’s nine points in the third quarter when the Lady Invaders closed to within one point of Abington Heights.
West Scranton (16-7) earned two wins over Abington Heights during the Lackawanna League season and the third meeting proved to be just as competitive.
“It was another great game,” West Scranton head coach Leo Ciullo said. “We weren’t able to score in the post like I thought we’d be able to do. They did a great job on us. We had our shots; we just weren’t able to capitalize.”
Kowalski scored seven of her team-high 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a strong drive to the hoop and 3-pointer from the top of the key that gave the Lady Comets a 33-28 lead with 2:51 left in the fourth quarter
“I knew I needed to step up the intensity and play my game,” Kowalski said. “I needed to focus more on driving to the basket and we did a good job as a team.”
Jefferson fouled out with 1:03 remaining in the game, but the Lady Invaders still had plenty of fight left in them.
Cassandra Moraca and Tatum Repshis each made a 3-pointer for West in the final 30 seconds, but Evans made sure the Lady Comets would claim the win.
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.