For high school basketball teams, if you’re still playing games in the middle of March, it’s a good sign.
It means teams have talent — and also have a lot of the right pieces in the right places.
For Centre County’s two remaining girls’ basketball teams, there is a great deal of both athletic and basketball talent, but the whole is much bigger than the sum of the parts.
State College and Penns Valley are each among the final 16 teams standing in Pennsylvania in their respective classifications, with both returning to the court Tuesday. The Lady Little Lions (15-10) will meet Bethel Park (18-6) at 7:30 p.m. at Central Cambria High School in Ebensburg in Class 6A. The Lady Rams (21-5) face York Catholic (14-13) at 7:30 p.m. at Harrisburg’s Central Dauphin East High School in Class 3A.
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State College vs. Bethel Park
In the Lady Little Lions’ 55-45 win over Dallastown in Friday’s first round game, there was little doubt they needed Maya Bokunewciz to lead the way. She scored a game-high 23 points, with 17 in the second half. She was driving to the basket, hitting mid-range jumpers and even drilled a key 3-pointer from the corner in the fourth quarter.
While she took the reins in scoring, the sophomore knew she had a lot of help to score those points.
“We were working as a team and trying to get shots however we could,” she said after the game. “My shots came, other people’s shots came — we were just trying to do the best we could out there.”
State College will continue to rely heavily on Bokunewicz’s talent, but in recent weeks there have been others who have made big contributions. Lexi Risha scored a career-high 16 points to beat Altoona in the District 6 championship game, and quite a few times this season the Lady Little Lions surpassed 60 points but no one girl had more than 15.
“We believe our balanced scoring is closely tied to our ability to get the ball into the paint off the dribble,” coach Chris Leazier said. “When we get these paint threats, the defense compresses and gives us an opportunity to find open players in the form of kick-out threes or drop-offs to our posts.”
Leazier also noted that since Jan. 23 — a span of 10 games — his team has won eight and all of those contests had at least three girls scoring seven points or more. The two losses during that stretch didn’t have that many major offensive contributors.
Leazier also noted that, even if one of his girls has a big night like Bokunewicz’s 23 on Friday, it doesn’t mean there was a lack of balance, only that her teammates were making sure the ball was in the hands of the hottest shooter and everyone was filling their roles well.
“To the credit of our kids,” Leazier said, “they play unselfish basketball, and they’re comfortable with the idea that our ball movement and player movement creates the shot. We don’t want a specific person to score, we want the open person to score.”
Penns Valley vs. York Catholic
The Lady Rams have thrived on a balanced offense all season, and their last game was an aberration to their typical style. In a 54-47 PIAA first-round win against Seton LaSalle, Isabella Culver scored 20 points and Hannah Montminy netted 19, while the rest of the team totaled 11 points.
Those numbers were a major contrast to having four starters averaging in double figures. For the year Montminy leads with 13 points a game, Culver is next at 11, and Jordan Andrus and Emma Butler each add 10 a game. The best example of their balance came in their District 6 quarterfinal win against Central Cambria, when those four girls, and Paige Kubalak, all registered between 10 and 12 points.
Coach Karen McCaffrey knows games like that make her team tough to defend.
“It’s tough for teams to key on one player,” she said. “We give the green light to all of our players and want them to have the confidence that if they are open, they are expected and encouraged to shoot.”
With an offense that averages 53.6 points per game is coupled with their defensive pressure that creates plenty of turnovers, it adds up to a team that survived into the PIAA second round for the first time in program history.
For the second straight game Penns Valley will meet an opponent that has a deceptive record. The Fighting Irish moved over .500 for the season with their first-round win over Mastery Charter South. York Catholic has been a perennial small-school state power, reaching the PIAA championship game four times in the past nine seasons.
The Lady Rams won’t be intimidated, already savoring achieving something that had not been done before with their program.
“It’s very cool,” Andrus said after Friday’s win. “It’s great to be a part of school history.”
PIAA Girls’ Basketball
Second Round, Tuesday
Class 3A: Penns Valley (21-5) vs. York Catholic (14-13), at Central Dauphin East HS, Harrisburg, 7:30 p.m.
Class 6A: State College (15-10) vs. Bethel Park (18-6), at Central Cambria High School, Ebensburg, 7:30 p.m.