The Lady Little Lions looked ready for a long battle with Bethel Park on Tuesday night after Olivia De La Nuez put in a layup to give State College the lead at the end of the first quarter.
The Lady Hawks found another gear in the final three quarters though.
District 7’s Bethel Park outscored the Lady Little Lions by 20 points the rest of the way en route to a 53-35 victory in the second round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament at Central Cambria High School.
Isabelle Leazier knocked down two 3-pointers and the Lady Little Lions had four total field goals in the first quarter. They’d muster only three 3-pointers and nine total field goals in the final three frames.
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“We had a good first quarter offensively and after that we were pretty disrupted,” State College coach Chris Leazier said. “We like to really get the ball moving, to get the ball in the paint off the dribble and get it kicked out, so we can play against closeout (defenders). They had a really good gameplan. When we put the ball on the ground, they stayed on our shooters and they made our drivers turn into finishers. We didn’t execute well.”
Sophomore Maya Bokunewicz couldn’t find her groove Tuesday night after she led the Lady Little Lions to the PIAA Round of 16 with 23 points in their opening round victory over District 3’s Dallastown last Friday.
With the Lady Little Lions struggling from the perimeter, they also couldn’t get post player Elizabeth Czekaj the ball enough in the paint to ease their troubles from the outside.
The quick hands of Bethel Park’s Maria Cerro gave the Lady Little Lions fits all night. She led the Lady Hawks’ disruptive defense, scoring a game-high 14 points thanks to some easy points off steals.
“She’s a great player,” coach Leazier said of Cerro. “We identified her in our scouting. She’s an impactful player on both ends of the court, and she played really well tonight.”
State College sent seniors Czekaj, Addie Orndorff, and Emilee Engle off with a 15-11 record, a District 6 title, and a PIAA victory.
The District 6 title was especially sweet after entering the tournament as the No. 3 seed in a three-team tournament.
It was quite the turnaround from earlier in the season. The Lady Little Lions sat below .500 well into January but reeled off eight victories in their final 11 games.
Coach Leazier said it took awhile to figure out their rotations and for their offense to finally click, but the results finally came at the end of the season.
“The kids kept working at it and they kept bought in,” he said. “That’s really the key. If you can keep them bought in, even when you’re up and down, you got a chance to get better and improve. The credit goes to them. They decided they could be good, and they proved it.”