STATE COLLEGE — State College was able to fend off Harrisburg 58-46 with a strong team effort in the second half, but from the opening tip the Lady Little Lions knew they were in for a fight.
Cougars’ forward Briana Mack beat Kyla Irwin to the opening jump, which led to fellow forward Jada Sloane getting to the foul line. Then, Mack stole the first post entry to Irwin and later rejected the freshman’s first shot attempt.
“Well, I thought from the beginning it would be pretty tough because they had two big girls,” Kyla Irwin said. “I definitely knew it was going to be tough down in the paint.”
A familiar trio would help State College seize control in the first half, while the rest of the team picked up the slack in the second to pull out its seventh consecutive victory.
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Harrisburg jumped out to a quick 6-3 lead but Irwin, Jenna Altomare and Taylor Allison would orchestrate a 16-4 run that stifled the Cougars’ fast start.
In fact, no other players scored for State College in the first half. Irwin scored 14 of her game-high 18 in the half, Altomare scored 8 of her 12 and Taylor Allison scored six of her 16 total points.
Quencey Hickerson led the Cougars with 17, while Mack scored eight points, blocked four shots but fouled out late.
State College looked poised to break the game open after Irwin rejected Hickerson then ran the floor for an Altomare pass and an easy bucket that made it 23-14 with around two minutes remaining in the half.
But Hickerson got revenge with a 3-pointer on the right wing. Then, a Briana Sye pilfer and layup with seconds remaining got the Cougars into the half down just 28-21.
If the trio of Irwin, Altomare and Allison dominated the first half, their teammates picked up the slack in the second.
Bridget King scored six quick points to open the third as the Cougars were intent on not letting Irwin ravage them again. King finished with eight points and drew a charge for Mack’s fourth foul, which forced the Cougars dominant presence out late in the game.
“Well, we really started to distribute the ball better and look for our other teammates,” Allison said. “Since myself, Kyla and Jenna were the only ones scoring, they collapsed on us, so we had to get it to our teammates.”
The strategy worked, but the Cougars offense also picked up the pace. Harrisburg scored 12 to King’s six and got to within 34-33 with about three minutes left in the third quarter.
That’s when a free throw from Franki Treglia, a whirling left handed layup by Meghan Karstetter and a Allison layup put State College back in control.
“I just love working with these girls,” said head coach Bethany Irwin. “They really work hard. They really work together. They’re very unselfish as to who gets what, as long as they get that ‘W’ at the end.”
Working hard for her teammates is not something new for Allison. The senior was honored at halftime for raising over $11,000 for the program since she was in seventh grade.
The team honored her with the first-annual Taylor Allison Above and Beyond Award. A plaque will now be given to future seniors who go above the normal call of duty in assisting with fund raising efforts for the program.
“I didn’t know the award was coming but coach said she wanted to do something for me,” Allison said. “I didn’t really know the extent of what it was but I was really honored to be rewarded.”
State College’s lead would swell to 50-37 after an Allison three hit nothing but net with three minutes remaining, but a slew of turnovers would make things interesting late.
Tianna Jackson hit back-to-back baskets after hitting a short jumper and picking Allison’s pocket for a layup, while Hickerson also nabbed a steal and basket to cap a 6-0 run to pull the Cougars within 50-43.
“We still have to learn when to push the ball and when to pull it back when it’s not there,” Irwin said. “But they’re so excitable and then want to run. I think once we learn that we can be really strong.”
Harrisburg would get no closer.
State College doesn’t get to enjoy the victory for too long, as it will head to Hollidaysburg (8-0) at 2:30 p.m. today.
Kyla Irwin scored 14 points at halftime. Jenna Altomare had 8 at halftime and Taylor Allison scored six points.