BROOKVILLE — Johnsonburg was on the verge of doing what no Ramette basketball squad had done in four decades — win a District 9 title — but North Clarion spoiled that party Thursday night with a thrilling 43-41 victory to capture its third straight Class A crown.
That title drought for the Ramettes goes deeper than just lifting a championship trophy, though, as they were playing in the district finals for the first time since winning the 1979 D-9 Class A championship game against Clarion-Limestone (98-38). That title was Johnsonburg third in a row at the time — a streak that saw the Ramettes finish as the state runner-up in 1978 and 1979.
The third-seeded She-Wolves (19-6) seized control of the game with a 11-0 run that spanned the end of the first quarter and beginning of second. North Clarion hit three 3-pointers in that spurt that proved to be the difference in the game.
She-Wolves Abby Gatesman and Mackenzie Bauer each hit treys in the final 1:20 of the first quarter to give North Clarion a 19-13 lead after eight minutes. Bauer then scored on a putback 19 seconds into the second quarter, while a 3-pointer by Gabby Carll at the 5:15 mark gave North Clarion its largest lead of the night at 11 points (24-13).
That run forced the Ramettes to play catch up and expend extra energy from early on in the game, although the Ramettes didn’t back down from the challenge. Johnsonburg cut the deficit to four points (24-20) by halftime before falling behind by eight (31-23) in the third quarter.
Top-seeded Johnsonburg (20-6) had one final run left and used a 9-4 spurt to start the fourth quarter to pull even at 37-37 with 2:22 to play.
The Ramettes couldn’t get over the hump to regain the lead though, as Gabby Schmader drilled a huge 3-pointer with 38 seconds left to put North Clarion back on top 40-37. North Clarion hit seven treys in the game to aide in the victory, which avenged a 55-46 loss to the Ramettes at home on Jan. 3.
The She-Wolves hit enough free throws from there to pull out the two-point victory with Johnsonburg’s Cassidy King scoring at the final buzzer to set the final. King led all scorers with 21 points.
“We came up a little short tonight,” said Johnsonburg coach Mike King. “We struggled on the boards, and that probably hurt us the most. That’s a heck of a team there though. If that’s who we’re going to lose to, I can live with that.We fought until the end, and you can’t ask for much more from the girls.
“You always want win, but it’s unbelievable the work the kids put in to get here. It’s not easy to get to this game, and that was their goal — to get here and play in it and see what happens. To lose by two points to North Clarion, we fought hard.
“Now, we have a week to heal up and go play a state game.”
Johnsonburg led twice early in the first quarter at 2-0 and 3-2 before North Clarion heated up from the outside. The She-Wolves hit five 3-pointers in the quarter but the Ramettes still hung tough at 13-13 before Gatesman and Bauer ended the quarter with outside bombs to make it 19-13.
Gatesman hit three treys in the first quarter and scored 13 of her team-high 20 points in the opening eight minutes.
Carll’s 3-pointer in early in the second quarter made it 24-13, but that proved to be the She-Wolves final points in the half as they went scoreless for 5:15. Carll had eight points in the game.
Johnsonburg was experiencing some offensive woes itself, but the Ramettes managed to put together a 7-0 spurt in the final four minutes to pull within four at 24-20 at the break. Maria Jones started the spurt, while King had the final five points on a trey and later a putback in the final 30 seconds.
Jones and Linndsey Kocjancic each had six for the Ramettes.
Any momentum Johnsonburg took into the half was taken away to start the third as North Clarion doubled its lead to eight (31-23) in the first four-plus minutes.
Johnsonburg, which went nearly four minutes without scoring, roared back late in the third though. King scored just under the 2-minute mark, then Amanda Williams completed an old-fashion 3-point play with 53 seconds in the clock to make it 31-28.
Gatesman countered with a hoop for North Clarion to send the game to the fourth with the She-Wolves up 33-28.
The teams traded scores through the midway point of the fourth before Johnsonburg scored five straight on a Rylee Casilio trey and King hoop to pull even at 37-37 with 2:22 to play. That spurt came with Jones on the bench after she was forced to leave with an injury at 3:26 mark. She briefly returned to the game before leaving again.
Johnsonburg had a chance to take the lead with 1:13 remaining when Jones’ replacement — Emma King — was fouled in the lane. However, she missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Schmader hit her clutch 3-pointer 35 seconds later to put North Clarion ahead for good at 40-37 to clinch the school’s third straight title. The She-Wolves are the first team to 3-peat in Class A since Union did so from 2005-07.
Both teams returns to action next Saturday in the opening round of the PIAA playoffs.
The state playoff appearance will be the first since 2013 for Johnsonburg, which plays the fourth-seeded team from the WPIAL. The Ramettes lost their states opener to District 6 champ Bishop Guilfoyle, 47-26, back in ’13 as the fourth-place team from District 9
North Clarion plays the sixth-place team from the WPIAL.