STATE COLLEGE — One after another, the shots were falling for Jalyn Shelton-Burleigh.
It started just 18 seconds into the game, when Briget King drove the lane and fed the junior for a layup. Not long after she drained two free throws, then Carrie Mahon had a steal, raced down the floor and kicked the ball out to Shelton-Burleigh for a 15-footer. A little later, Mahon found the junior again for a short jumper on an inbounds play, banking the ball off the glass.
“I don’t know, it was like undescribable,” Shelton-Burleigh said. “I can never remember doing all that in the first quarter.”
She took five shots in the opening eight minutes of last Friday’s PIAA first-round win against Mount Lebanon, and made all five of them, adding in the two free throws.
The fiery start ignited the Lady Little Lions, who never trailed and held on for a 51-50 win.
It sends them into the second round Tuesday night against North Allegheny (23-2), with the teams battling at 8 p.m. at Indiana High School.
For State College (18-7) to win that game, it will need another big night from Shelton-Burleigh.
She finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, with several of those boards on the offensive end.
But she was on fire with her shooting, making her first six shots of the game and finishing 8 of 11 on the night.
“We came out and Jay found her stroke right off the bat,” coach Bethany Irwin said. “The ball was getting into her hands and she was making open shots, making good shots. I don’t care who puts it in. If someone has the hot hand, we’re going to try to get them the ball as much as we can.”
The first quarter was capped when she took another pass from Mahon on an inbounds play on the wing and buried a 3-pointer. Her game is usually played in the paint, but when everything is falling, there was no reason not to expect a shot from beyond the arc to fall.
“It just feels amazing,” Shelton-Burleigh said. “It gives you a lot of confidence for the rest of the game, when you start off really hot and the whole team starts off hot. We were just feeding off each other’s energy.”
That 3-pointer gave the team a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter, and she had the feeling before tipoff the night had potential to be a good one.
“I just went into the game confident,” she said. “We focus before every game, and I really focused on what I needed to do for that game.”
While sophomore Kyla Irwin leads the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging a double-double, the team is always in need for more production, especially at this point in the season. Balance on offense will produce wins as much as anything in the state tournament.
Shelton-Burleigh is also capable of a double-double, and having two post players able to do that, along with both able to hit 50 percent of their shots from the floor, opens so many doors.
“Kyla and I read each other really well,” Shelton-Burleigh said. “The whole team reads each other really well, so when we know one person is on, we make sure they’re getting the ball. If they’re paying a lot of attention to one person, we look for the open player. All season we’ve been focusing on looking for the open player.”
With the Tigers on Tuesday night, the Lady Little Lions will face a different team from Mount Lebanon. While the Blue Devils’ roster was filled with long, lanky players who slash to the basket, North Allegheny has both size in the paint and a bunch of girls, who will drill 3-pointers.
In Friday’s 64-39 upset of District 7 champion Penn Trafford, the Tigers made nine 3-pointers, led by 22 points with six 3-pointers from Devvin LaBarge. They also forced 19 turnovers from the Warriors.
“The girls have to have their best games every game now,” Bethany Irwin said. “If someone doesn’t, then they certainly have to make up for it (in other areas).”
While the Tigers will be tough to tame, having another hot night from the “J Train” will help the cause.
Shelton-Burleigh got the nickname from her parents, and it was fitting last Friday.
“They say once I start penetrating I’m not stopping,” Shelton-Burleigh said with a laugh. “Most of the time I’m not. My dad makes ‘choo-choo’ noises in the stands.”