PATTON – In a clash of the top two teams in the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference, Monday’s contest between the Forest Hills and Cambria Heights girls basketball teams certainly lived up to the hype.
Led by 27 points from junior Jordyn Smith, who netted nine in the final frame alone, the Lady Rangers capped off the program’s first undefeated regular season and sealed the top seed in the conference with a 63-58 victory.
“It was a great team effort tonight,” said Forest Hills junior Madeline Cecere, who posted 15 points in the victory. “Cambria Heights is a great team. Every team in the Laurel Highlands is a great team, and they’re going to put up a battle every single night.”
Cambria Heights (19-2) seemed to have its way early. Through the first 12 minutes of the game, Forest Hills was limited to just nine points as the Highlanders claimed a double-digit lead.
With shots simply not falling, the Rangers (22-0) were forced to lock things up before the score fell too far out of reach.
“Defense travels no matter where we go or what gym we’re in,” junior Taylor Burda said. “If our shots are off, our defense can always travel with us. That’s just kind of the mentality that we go through. We know that we can count on our defense if our offense is off.”
While the half-court scheme was working, the Rangers still couldn’t get their offense into the flow of the game.
Looking to push the tempo and get the ball moving in the right direction, Forest Hills deployed a full-court pressure defensive set.
As a result, Forest Hills was able to rattle Cambria Heights at points and create opportunities on the fast break.
“It was really stressful,” sophomore guard Remi Smith (12 points) said of overcoming the early deficit. “We all had to work really hard to get to the loose balls and force turnovers. But everyone contributed where they could.”
Forest Hills also started to find its groove from beyond the arc and sank eight treys total in the game.
With the Rangers climbing back in, Cambria Heights attempted to switch up its game plan to stifle the kick to the outside.
But instead, Forest Hills was able to take several drives to the hoop and converted in the paint.
“I think we got away from our game plan a little bit to contain the 3. We let (Forest Hills) have too many open shots,” Cambria Heights coach Amber Fees said. “I think we missed some close shots that we normally would make in other games, and (Forest Hills) made their shots.”
Cambria Heights, which had dual 17-point scorers in Chloe Weakland and Emily Henry, clawed back and kept the score within four with only a few minutes to go. Abby Lobick added 15 points.
A clutch trey by Jordyn Smith with just over three minutes to go, however, extended the lead to seven as the Rangers were able to walk away with the victory.
“We knew we had this. We just had to calm down,” Jordyn Smith said. “Everyone here trusts each other. We just had to finish it.”
With the LHAC playoffs just around the corner, it is very possible these two teams may face-off yet again.
Judging by how tight things were Monday night, both teams said they are excited by the potential of a rematch.
“I think my girls hustled their butts off tonight,” Fees said. “Unfortunately it wasn’t a little bit good enough. But these girls played with a lot of heart, and I hope we see (Forest Hills) on Saturday (for the LHAC finals). I would love to play them again.”