DuBOIS — The Punxsutawney girls basketball used a smothering defense and third-quarter offensive explosion Wednesday evening to capture its third straight District 9 Class 4A championship with a lopsided 44-23 victory against St. Marys at DuBois Area High School.

The title matchup turned into a defensive battle on both ends of the court from the get-go, with both teams struggled to find its offensive game through the first 16 minutes.

Punxsy led 5-1 after one quarter before taking a 13-6 advantage into halftime. The Lady Chucks finally found their offense after the break, scoring the first nine points of the third quarter to go up 22-6.

Punxsy (22-1) went on to outscore St. Marys 21-6 in the quarter to take a commanding 34-12 lead after three quarter. The Lady Dutch finally got some shots to fall in the fourth quarter after it seemed there was a lid on the basket for them through three quarters.

St. Marys scored 11 points in the final eight minutes, but it was nowhere near enough as the Lady Chucks came with a 21-point victory that felt a little more lopsided than that score might indicate.

Punxsy held St. Marys to just seven field goals in the game — two in the first half (both in second quarter). The Lady Chucks also enjoyed a decided advantage at the free throw line, which played a big factor in the game’s outcome. Punxsy made 16 of 21 foul shots, while the Lady Dutch were just 9 of 18.

The title game victory was Punxsy’s second in a row against St. Marys. The Lady Chucks topped the Lady Dutch, 47-24, in last year’s finals and now have six wins against St. Marys over the last two years.

“There defense was really good and just getting to the rim or getting a shot was tough,” said St. Marys coach Leona Hoohuli. “And when we did (get a shot), the ball wasn’t going in. The lid seemed to be on (hoop) for a long time.

“I talked to them at halftime and said the defense was good but we couldn’t make baskets, which was fine. We just had to continue that defensive intensity. But, late in the third and in the fourth Punxsy started making even more shots. So, it was tough.”

It didn’t take long for those attendance to figure defense was going to rule most of the night.

It took more than three minutes for either side to score, with Punxsy’s Kate Horner breaking the ice with a hoop 3:09 into the first quarter. The Lady Chucks held that 2-0 lead late into the quarter before St. Marys finally found the scoreboard when Allison Schlimm went 1 of 2 at the line with 1:33 on the clock.

Punxsy answered right back with a basket inside by Sophie Wyant, then Sarah Weaver went 1 of 2 at the line in the final minute to make it 5-1 Punxsy after a quarter.

St. Marys Megan Quesenberry opened the scoring in the second quarter with a basket 1:33 in to make it a two-point game at 5-3. That proved to be the closest the Lady Dutch got in the game as Punxsy used an 8-0 spurt to go up 10 points (13-3) with 2:42 left. Quesenberry and Kaylee Muccio each scored six points to St. Marys.

The Lady Dutch scored the final three points of half on a Schlimm basket and Samantha Hayes free throw to keep St. Marys in the game at the half down 13-6. Hayes finished with five points.

Punxsy then seized control of the game in the third quarter with its 9-0 run to start the third quarter that was capped by a 3-pointer from Riley Presloid. St. Marys halted that run when Britney Shaw and Hayes scored back-to-back hoops only to see Punxsy promptly rip off a 10-0 run this time. Horner capped this spurt with a trey that made it 32-10.

Horner finished with 10 points, while Weaver scored a game-high 14 — including a 9-for-10 performance at the foul line — for the Lady Chucks.

The teams traded scores to end the quarter with the Lady Chucks taking a 34-12 advantage into the fourth.

Punxsy pushed the lead to as many as 26 points twice in the fourth before eventually winning by 21.

St. Marys, which finished the season with a 17-7 record, loses just one senior to graduation in Abigail Adamski. With basically its entire varsity roster back, Hoohuli is already thinking about next season.

“I was very proud of the girls, and we’re going to miss Abby our lone senior,” said Hoohuli. “But, we’re looking forward to next year too. We have most of our team back, especially that junior class that has played a lot and has that maturity and game experience now, which is crucial.”

The Lady Chucks move on to play the fourth-place team from the WPIAL in the first round of the state playoffs on Saturday, March 9.