ALTOONA. Pa. -- First, it was the chants.
"Hershey! Hershey!" echoed through the Altoona Fieldhouse with just seconds remaining in the PIAA Class AAA girls semifinal between Blackhawk and Palmyra.
Then, it was action.
Hundreds of Hershey's Kisses showered the floor as Blackhawk celebrated its first trip to the PIAA finals in 14 years with a 49-41 victory Tuesday night against Palmyra.
The Cougars won back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000.
The Cougars broke open a close game with an 11-2 run to end the first half and held off a late Palmyra charge.
The key stretch came after Palmyra tied the score, 19-19, on two free throws after Halle Denman picked up her third personal foul with 4:32 remaining in the first half.
Two of the Cougars' best players led the charge. Junior Chassidy Omogrosso, a Duquesne recruit, and Courtney Vannoy, a Loyola (Md.) recruit, combined for nine of Blackhawk's 11 points during a run that gave the Cougars a 30-21 lead into the intermission.
"We talked a little bit about adversity," Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico said. "When you get to these types of games you're going to hit adversity, and obviously there's no bigger adversity than having your best players on the bench."
Palmyra continued to apply pressure as it tried to make a comeback. It managed to cut the deficit to four on Kailey Werkheiser's third 3-pointer with just under a minute to play in the third quarter. Omogrosso responded with a layup just before the buzzer to give Blackhawk a 38-32 lead after three quarters.
Werkheiser hit her fourth 3 in as many attempts to open the scoring in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 38-35. Denman hit a twisting layup and Omogrosso followed with one of her own, but Palmyra matched each possession with baskets. Bucknell recruit Carly Richardson's basket with 5:30 remaining made it 42-39. The Cougars held Richardson to just 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting while allowing Palmyra just basket after that point.
Vannoy scored on Blackhawk's next two possessions, and Omogrosso's layup with 3:30 to play pushed the lead back to nine at 48-39. Molly Gundermann cut the lead to 48-41, but the Blackhawk defense shut out Palmyra the rest of the way.
Although Blackhawk went just 1 of 9 from the free-throw line in the final minutes, the team defense never allowed Palmyra a real chance to get back in the game.
"They've been doing tremendous throughout the whole playoff run," Omogrosso said of her teammates. "From the WPIAL playoffs and now in the states, everyone has stepped up and done a really good job."
Two quick fouls took Omogrosso out of the game just minutes into the first quarter, and she didn't return until the start of the second quarter. When she came back, she injured an ankle early in the second quarter.
"I just rolled it and I think it scared me," Omogrosso said. "I was fine, but there was no way I was missing this game."