West Xtra: Big plays carrying Cougars in PIAA

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A regulation high school basketball game lasts 32 minutes. Dozens of plays take place over the course of a game that can determine a team's fate.

With less than one second remaining in the first quarter of this past Saturday's PIAA Class AAA girls quarterfinal game at Butler Area High School with the unbeaten Hickory Hornets holding a 13-6 lead against WPIAL champion Blackhawk, one such play took place.

With time winding down, the Cougars' multi-talented point guard, Chassidy Omogrosso, made a move toward the top of the 3-point line and released a shot that had no chance of reaching its target.

But that wasn't the end of the play. While she was suspended in midair, the Hornets Jasmine Shephard made contact with Omogrosso. An official blew the whistle, sending Omogrosso to the line for three free-throw attempts.

Omogrosso made all three attempts. The Cougars trailed by four. And partisans on both sides sensed that what was shaping up to be an extension of one team's unbeaten season would now be a closely contested game for the entirety of the 32 minutes.

"That was huge," Blackkhawk coach Steve Lodovico said. "If she doesn't get to the line at that point, we didn't have any confidence going into the second [period]. They were doing what they wanted with us, and we were having trouble with [Hickory forward Holly Grober]. She was getting to the rim, and their point guard [Nikki Arbanas] is a great player."

After making her first three free-throw attempts, Omogrosso would receive the ball 10 more times from an official over the remainder of the game, and with 15.5 seconds left in the game, she would convert her final two free throws to seal a 48-45 victory for Blackhawk.

Thirteen free throws. All successful. And the Cougars (27-2) would live to fight another day as they advanced to defeat Palmyra, the No. 5 team from District 3, 49-41, in a PIAA Class AAA semifinal Tuesday at the Altoona High Field House.

The Cougars play for the PIAA Class AAA championship at 6 p.m. Saturday against District 12 champion Archbishop Wood, who defeated Holy Redeemer, the No. 3 team from District 2. Archbishop Wood, located in the Philadelphia suburb of Warminster, is 25-3.

Omogrosso's proficiency at the free-throw line was a marked contrast from the Cougars' 62-55 victory against South Park in the WPIAL championship game. In that contest, she missed four of her seven free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.

Lodovico classified that effort as a "mishap,"

Omogrosso, though, knew what she had to do. So, she went back to the drawing board. Which, in her case, is a basketball court where she receives tutelage from a knowledgeable source.

"I think it's all mental," she said about standing 15 feet from a round piece of iron suspended from a backboard 10 feet above the floor. "I practice [shooting free throws] with my dad every night."

How important is this father-daughter ritual?

Important enough to help get the Cougars on the cusp of an appearance in a state championship game.

"Free throws win games," she said. "I know I have to be able to make them."

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