WINGATE — When the buzzer blared for the final time for Bald Eagle Area’s senior class in its gymnasium, it was quickly followed by jubilant screams powered by the knowledge that a championship was finally theirs.
The Lady Eagles held off the Tyrone Golden Eagles 48-46 Monday night to clinch the Mountain League crown.
“It means so much,” said senior Kaitlyn Miller, her face red from the effort and the emotion of the win. “We’ve come so far and for three years. We haven’t been able to get it and to finally get it is like the best feeling in the world.”
The victory was made even sweeter because a loss to Tyrone last season kept BEA (19-1, 13-0) from nabbing the title.
“It makes it all the more special to know that we beat them for our Mountain League Championship,” Miller said, sporting an ear-to-ear smile.
It was only fitting that only seniors scored for BEA.
Marissa Ward led the team with 14 points. Mary Pillot scored 12 while Miller netted 11 points, Lexi Josefik had nine and Allie Simpson scored two.
Tyrone senior Nicole Gripp led everyone with 23 points, though she was stymied early by a tenacious BEA defense.
Each team started out with zone defenses that left gaps on the perimeter. Both offenses took advantage, as the first four field goals of the night were 3-point bombs.
The game looked like it would be decided in shootout form early between Ward and Gripp, leading scorers for their teams averaging 19 and 16 points, respectively.
Ward finished the first frame with eight and Gripp with five as BEA finished with an 11-10 lead after one.
However, what started as a one-woman show ended as anything but, as other Eagles began to contribute.
Pillot, Miller and Josefik took care of the scoring in the second, including a banked-in triple by Josefik midway through the quarter. Ward scored just twice in the quarter, but it was her team’s defensive effort on Gripp that gave BEA some separation.
“In practice we talked about knowing where she was,” Eagles coach Troy Butterworth said of Gripp. “The last time we played them she had 28 points. I told the girls she could shoot from anywhere.”
Gripp finally scored in the second on a desperation runner as time expired, a small slice of revenge after she was tricked by BEA’s student section into heaving a brick with five seconds remaining in the first quarter.
BEA went into the half with a 25-18 lead, but would unveil its secret weapon in the third.
Miller, a 6-foot-2 center, utilized her size in the screen-and-roll game as Tyrone switched to guard the perimeter, leaving a smaller defender to deal with Miller.
She scored seven of her 11 points in the quarter and her short jumper off glass gave her team a 34-22 lead with five minutes remaining.
The lead was not big enough for Butterworth’s liking, however.
“I knew they were never going to go away,” Butterworth said. “No matter how big the lead got I knew they were going to come back eventually.”
After holding down Gripp for most of the night, the senior exploded in the fourth for 13 points, including 10 in a row, the last of which was a three that pulled Tyrone within 46-42 with 2:56 remaining.
“I told the girls, ‘Don’t let them take something from us that’s been taken away for three years,” Butterworth said.
After Morgan Taylor went 1-for-2 from the foul line for Tyrone, her team got within one possession at 46-43. But the ensuing possessions for each team would be ugly, as both turned it over twice.
Ultimately, BEA managed to whittle away the clock and wind up with Ward at the line with just 31.8 seconds separating her team from the title.
She stepped to the line poised, with one thing in mind: “I have to make these,” Ward said.
She drained both.
“We held it, we kept calm, we were good,” Ward said. “I’m speechless right now. I don’t know what to say.”
An emotional Miller found the right words to sum up her night and career.
“It’s really sad,” Miller said emotionally. “But it’s worth it now because we’re Mountain League champions.”