The Port Allegany girls basketball team started last week with a win at Austin, but the combination of a short roster and some quality competition led to close losses against Otto-Eldred and Ridgway.

Cailey Barnett’s big night (21 points, 10 steals, nine rebounds, four assists) led the Gators against the Panthers, with Bree Garzel adding eight points, nine steals, seven boards and four assists. Evin Stauffer continued her strong freshman season with 12 points, five rebounds and three assists, with classmate Madeline Smith contributing six rebounds. Taylor Brewer and Kylie Welsh each netted eight points to pace the Panthers.

Two nights later, with their top post players Shannon Curfman (injury) and Jade Evens (illness) both sidelined, Port faced a tall order in trying to stop Otto-Eldred. While the Gators’ tallest starter stood just 5-7, the Terrors boasted one of the biggest frontcourt groups in the league, featuring 5-10 forwards Morgan Dalton and Reilly Raught and 5-9 forward/center Bri Heller in the starting lineup along with 5-8 forward Kayley Heller coming off the bench.

It was O-E’s smallest player, though, who stunned the Gators in the opening moments as 5-2 point guard Katie Sheeler notched two quick baskets, a steal and an assist to fellow ninth-grader Bri Heller for a 6-0 lead and a Port timeout just 44 seconds into the game.

The Gators rallied in the second half of the opening quarter, with Garzel and Barnett hitting triples to make it 14-13 O-E after one. Another Barnett three-ball from the corner gave Port its first lead early in the second, with the two teams trading shots before heading into halftime with the score knotted at 24-24.

The visitors started to take control midway through the third frame, with Sheeler and Raught burying triples to open up a 38-32 margin, but Barnett answered just before the buzzer to send the game into the final eight minutes with the Gators down 41-37.

A Dalton three from the top of the arc opened up O-E’s largest lead of the night at 46-37 with 5:51 remaining. The Gators fought back yet again, twice cutting the margin to three, but the Terrors hit their free throws down the stretch to hold on for the 59-51 win.

The talented freshman tandem of Sheeler (15) and Bri Heller (13) finished the night with 28 points, with Sheeler going 8-for-10 from the line, and Kayley Heller (10 points/13 rebounds), Raught (nine), and Dalton (seven) also contributed to the balanced O-E offense.

“Not the team we want to be shorthanded on the inside against,” coach Jamie Evens said. “I don’t know their rebounding stats, but I’m sure they killed us on the boards. Great effort by our girls, they threw their bodies in there, but we were out-sized and there’s only so much we could do about that.”

Barnett (33 points, five rebounds, five steals) and Garzel (14 points, eight rebounds) scored all but four of Port’s points, with Evens noting, “Shannon’s our third-leading scorer, so not having her hurts.”

He added, “We took some good shots in the second half; they just weren’t falling. And then we get down and we start forcing some shots that we typically wouldn’t take. Our game is press and run-and-gun, and when you’re down to … Our top sub tonight was a JV player. That kind of hurts being able to run people too hard, and it affects the way we want to play the game. It was really the reverse of the last time we played them at Otto. We could play our game there; today we had to play their game and they beat us at it.”

A Saturday-evening non-league contest at Ridgway produced a second setback, with the Elkers’ Gabby Rohr scoring eight of her game-best 19 points in the fourth quarter as the hosts rallied for the 38-32 win.

“We fell apart,” Evens wrote via text message. “We did a pretty good job on Rohr for most of the game, and then she took over the last four minutes. We were up 32-28 and didn’t score again. Ridgway is a very physical team, and we couldn’t match it. Too many turnovers — 19 in a very slow-paced game.”

Port (12-4, 9-2 NTL) was slated to host league-leading Coudersport on Wednesday, sandwiched in between road trips to Smethport (Jan. 27) and a varsity-only contest at Oswayo Valley (Jan. 31, 6:30 p.m.) All three games are rematches from the first half of the NTL schedule, with the Gators dropping the first meeting at Coudy (52-42) while easing past the Hubbers (56-10) and Green Wave (54-20) on the PAHS court.

“Coming into the year, we knew there were three teams that could be competitive (in the league). We’re both disappointed that Coudy got us the first time. So obviously our goal is to get Coudy, and our hope is Eldred gets ‘em too and we have a three-way tie to deal with and we’ll go from there,” Evens said following the O-E game. “We’re also looking forward to districts. We’re the only Double-A team from the Northern Tier, so that will be a little different group of teams we’re going against. We’re still focused on that. I just told the girls in the locker room, ‘We’ve got to finish the season, we can’t hang our heads.’”

Next week: Galeton, Feb. 5 (varsity only, 6:30 p.m.)

At Austin, Jan. 21:

Port Allegany (58)

Archer 3 0-0 6, Stauffer 4 4-4 12, Garzel 3 2-6 8, Daniels 3 0-0 6, Barnett 8 4-8 21, Smith 0 1-4 1, Budd 0 2-2 2, Causer 1 0-0 2. Totals: 22 13-24 58.

Austin (22)

Brewer 3 1-2 8, Welsh 4 0-0 8, Valenti 0 3-4 3, Setzer 0 1-2 1, Cooney 1 0-0 2. Totals: 8 5-8 22.

Port — 16 32 48 58

Austin — 6 16 21 22

3s: Port 1 (Barnett), Austin 1 (Brewer). Fouls: Port 8, Austin 11. Fouled out: Valenti (A).

At Port Allegany, Jan. 23:

Otto-Eldred (59)

Katie Sheeler 3 8-10 15, Cousins 2 0-2 5, Raught 3 2-2 9, Dalton 3 0-0 7, Bri Heller 5

3-4 13, Kayley Heller 4 2-3 10. Totals: 20 15-21 59.

Port Allegany (51)

Archer 0 0-0 0, Stauffer 0 2-2 2, Garzel 3 6-8 14, Daniels 1 0-0 2, Barnett 11 4-6 33. Totals: 15 12-16 51.

Otto-Eldred 14 24 41 59

Port Allegany 13 24 37 51

Three-point goals: O-E 4 (Sheeler 1, Cousins 1, Raught 1, Dalton 1), Port 9 (Barnett 7, Garzel 2). Fouls: O-E 17, Port 18. Fouled out: Bri Heller (O-E), Daniels (PA).

At Ridgway, Jan. 25:

Port Allegany (32)

Archer 2 0-0 6, Stauffer 2 2-4 6, Garzel 2 1-1 6, Daniels 1 0-0 2, Barnett 2 2-2 8, Smith 1 2-2 4. Totals: 10 7-9 32.

Ridgway (38)

Rohr 8 3-6 19, Fullem 4 0-2 8, Thomas 3 1-3 7, Steis 1 0-0 2, Delhunty 0 2-2 2. Totals: 16 6-13 38.

Port Allegany 14 21 26 32

Ridgway 12 16 21 38

3s: Port 5 (Barnett 2, Archer 2, Garzel), Ridgway 0. Fouls: Port 11, Ridgway 11. Fouled out: none.