PORT ROYAL - Juniata Mennonite coach Andy Meiser made an analogy Tuesday night between his team and an apple pie, explaining that a pie might have all the ingredients it needs when it's first put in the oven, but it doesn't turn into what it's designed to be until it has had some time to cook.
Apparently the Juniata Mennonite girls have started to cook at just the right time.
With Tuesday's win over Allegheny Christian Athletic Association opponent Meadowbrook Christian, Juniata Mennonite (8-8, 6-6) both qualified for a play-in game against Northumberland Christian today - the winner will be the No. 3 seed from the East Division in the ACAA tournament - but also gave a perfect object lesson in why basketball is a team sport.
It took great team defense, a never-quit attitude and buckets from all six of the Juniata Mennonite girls who entered the game to help Juniata Mennonite to come back from a third-quarter deficit and surge past Meadowbrook for a 45-40 win.
It all began for Juniata Mennonite late in the third quarter, when a Bethany Saner bucket, followed by two free throws on the next possession, put some life into her team's offense, which had been dormant the entire quarter - seemingly unable to stop Meadowbrook as it went on a 12-2 run to take a 36-29 lead.
After Saner's four-point third, however, the tide turned in Juniata Mennonite's favor and a 12-4 run in the fourth sealed the win and kept alive the local team's chances for postseason play.
IF YOU GO
Juniata Mennonite faces Northumberland Christian today at Sunbury Christian
"I told the girls (Meadowbrook's) going to hit hard," Meiser said. "They're a good program and they're well coached. They're going to hit hard, and we need to hit hard back."
And in the fourth quarter, that's exactly what Juniata Mennonite did.
Saner got her fourth foul early in the quarter and teammate Lydia Rudy came off the bench to take her place. It was Rudy's moment to shine as she hit a layup to give Juniata Mennonite a 38-37 lead.
From there, Meadowbrook hit a free throw to knot it up at 38-38, but Juniata Mennonite's Valerie Meiser answered with one from beyond the arc to give her team a lead it would never relinquish as buckets from teammates Molly Arnold and Alexis Hahn-Kline resulted in the 45-40 final.
"First half of the season we were pretty top heavy," Andy Meiser said, explaining that the team relied heavily on Valarie Meiser at the outset. But since then the team has developed some depth and balance, he said. This was evidenced by Juniata Mennonite's fairly even scoring spread, as Molly Arnold led with 12, Saner and Lauren Breon finished with nine, Meiser put up seven and Hahn-Kline contributed six. Saner's nine was a personal season-high.
Behind the excitement of Juniata Mennonite's offensive show was the team's defense, which was what Meiser described as "the subtle story of the game." Meiser explained that by shutting out Meadowbrook's perimeter game and holding Meadowbrook's Madison Burrows to just 13 points - Burrows put up 27 in the teams' last matchup - his girls were able to take away Meadowbrook's potency and stay in the game when the offense wasn't clicking.
Also important was that early in the game Meadowbrook's press forced many Juniata Mennonite turnovers, making it difficult for the locals to score, but on the whole the defense stepped in to make up for the lack of offense.
"At times we didn't handle it well," Meiser said of Meadowbrook's press. "Had we handled it well, it wouldn't have been 45-40. It would have been 50-30."
But regardless of the final score, Meiser could not have been more complimentary of hit team's effort, further stating how proud her was of the girls' spiritual development throughout the season, and now the girls are looking to today's game against Northumberland Christian.
"Norry crushed us the first two times we played them. Last time we came back from 17 and beat them by one, so we know what they're thinking. They want a piece of us," Meiser said.
This game, which will be played at Sunbury Christian, will determine which team will make it into the first round of the ACAA playoffs to be held at Northumberland Christian beginning Thursday.