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Frontier, Clarence Punch Tickets to Final

They say defense wins championships, and great defense is exactly what was on display in the Section VI Girls Basketball Class AA Semifinals at Sweet Home High School on Friday evening.

The No. 2 seeded Frontier Falcons grinded out a 45-41 win over the No. 6 seeded Lancaster Legends off the back of a 10-0 run early in the 4th quarter. The later game showed a much more comfortable margin of victory, as No. 1 seeded Clarence downed No. 4 seeded Jamestown thanks to a 51-37 win.

It was apparent the Falcons wanted to bring the pressure and play strong defense, as a full court press helped create turnovers the entire game.

“Our kids battle and compete, they play hard day in and day out,” said Frontier head coach Rick Mihalik. “I think we wore them down, and that ended up being the difference.”

The game was tight the majority of the first half, as neither side was able to gain more than a two possession lead on the other. Halftime showed a small advantage for the Falcons, 18-15.

As the second half got into full swing, it was the Legends went on a swift 7-0 run with the help of an Alyssa Krenz 3-pointer and put them up 31-27 early in the fourth quarter. Right when it looked like Lancaster was going to pull away, Frontier came up with a huge response. The defensive pressure was upped, as the Legends didn’t score a single field goal for nearly six straight minutes in the fourth.

“I think we played really good defense, we kept their best players on lock so they couldn’t shoot,” Frontier’s Claire Kruszka, who had 11 points and who’s 3 began the massive 10-0 fourth quarter run said. “We made a lot of foul shots and that really helped us.”

Despite two miraculous 3-pointers from Alyssa Krenz in the final 30 seconds, it wasn’t enough to claw the Legends back, as clutch foul shooting down the stretch and a game high 16 points from Kennedy Izzo was the difference.

Heading into the final against Clarence, Frontier has their work cut out for them.

“We’re going to have to continue doing what we do, we’re a team that’s going to work and battle,” said Mihalik. “Clarence plays great defense, we have to battle.”

That defense that Mihalik mentioned was on display in the Red Devil’s semifinal win, as they only allowed 13 Jamestown points in the first half.

Despite the final score, it wasn’t smooth sailing the whole way for Clarence. A nearly 5 minute scoreless drought in the 2nd quarter showed the Red Raiders take a 13-12 advantage, but then senior Ali DiGulio and the rest of the team caught fire.

“I think finally getting warmed up and hitting shots,” said Clarence head coach Erin Booker on the solution to their slow offensive start. “Somebody had to come through, and Ali DiGulio definitely did.”

DiGulio had a career high 19 points in the win, as well as nailing six 3’s. Her strong passing from the point guard position and running the offense as a whole helped create scoring opportunities for her team as well.

I just appreciate my teammates having faith in me and picking me out to take those 3’s,” said DiGulio on her hot hand.

The Red Devils took a 23-13 lead into halftime and never looked back.

With the championship game set, Clarence knows what they have to do to bring home a title.

“The game’s going to be scrappy, we need shut down their key players in (Claire) Kruszka and (Kennedy) Izzo. They’re outstanding players defensively and great 3 point shooters,” said Booker. “We played great defense on them at home when we beat them and we have to continue to do that. It’ll be a battle for sure.”

The Class AA final between the Red Devils and Falcons will take place at Buff State on March 8th at 7:30.

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