Bland spurs Spartans to title
Boardman rallied past Ursuline to win its ninth straight SVC championship.
& lt;a href=mailto:email@example.com & gt;By BRIAN RICHESSON & lt;/a & gt;
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BOARDMAN -- The Steel Valley Conference ended one of its most enticing chapters Saturday night.
There was suspense, action and comic relief, and for the Boardman High girls basketball team, a happy ending.
The main character (junior Amber Bland) was backed by a supporting cast of Spartans, who rallied for a 49-42 victory over Ursuline to clinch the SVC crown on their home floor.
Bland scored a game-high 24 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, as Boardman (19-1) overcame a five-point deficit for its ninth straight conference title.
The Spartans will move into the Federal League next season.
"She's the player," Boardman coach Ron Moschella said of Bland. "I said, 'Take the ball and do what you want.' Those are the type of players that win games for you."
Boardman began the fourth quarter by trailing 27-22, but a 17-3 run led to a 39-30 lead, which the Spartans didn't relinquish.
The message in the Boardman huddle was simple: Get the ball to Bland, who sealed the victory by making 8-for-10 free throws in the fourth and 12-for-15 for the game.
"Last year, he [Moschella] wanted [Ashlee] Russo to have the ball," Bland said. "Now, he's putting the game on my shoulders, and I'm glad to take it."
Lauren Craig punctuated the Boardman seniors' final game in their gym by scoring all nine of her points in the fourth quarter. Seniors Jen Hlebovy, Allison Davis and Bridget Beachy also played key roles for the Spartans.
"It seemed like I was out forever," said Craig, who was plagued by foul trouble. "I just wanted to play so bad, with it being my last game of my senior year [at home]. I just wanted to contribute."
Ursuline (18-2) exerted one last effort to catch Boardman in the fourth.
Senior Amber Miller, who scored a team-high 13 points, got Ursuline to within 45-42 on two free throws with 31.6 seconds remaining, but Boardman sealed it at the line.
The Irish shot just 25 percent (4-of-16) in the fourth quarter. Junior standout Courtney Davidson scored just three points in the second half -- on 1-of-11 shooting -- and finished with 10 while being defended by Boardman junior Brittany Durkin.
Senior Christina Cook added 10 points for Ursuline, and junior Renee Farina had seven for Boardman.
The comic relief came in the first quarter when Ursuline, leading 3-2, stalled for 4 minutes, 30 seconds. Miller held the ball at the top, while Boardman refused to guard her.
"We didn't want them to play the defense they're best at [1-3-1 chaser]," Sean Durkin said. "We just tried to pull them out of their strength."
Durkin looked at the Boardman bench, where Moschella leaned back in his chair with his legs crossed. Players smiled at one another.
The plan backfired when Bland stole the ball, scored and was fouled with 17 seconds to play. Boardman led 5-3 after the first quarter.
"He [Durkin] did a good job of sitting in there for a while," Moschella said, "but when Bland stole the ball and scored, it changed everything."
With this SVC chapter closed, how much will Boardman and Ursuline meet on the girls basketball court?
"We don't know if we'll play Boardman again," Durkin said. "We've been trying to get them on our schedule, but they don't know if they're going to play us."
Moschella said the future schedule is crowded.
"We'll play them," Moschella said, "if they come here."
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