The pieces for the comeback were in place for the State College girls’ basketball team.
The Lady Little Lions were getting the momentum and the two big inside threats for Altoona were both on the bench in foul trouble.
But State College could not take advantage of the opportunity, with the Mountain Lions having an answer each time the Lady Little Lions hit a big shot, as Altoona finished with a 58-55 victory in the District 6 Class AAAA semifinals Saturday afternoon at Bald Eagle Area High School.
“Everything’s just a big blur,” said senior guard Jenna Altomare, who had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists in her final game. “We played our hardest and it wasn’t what we needed. We needed to be harder and we just didn’t have it.”
The season ends for the Lady Little Lions (14-9) while the Lady Mountain Lions (16-7) will be seeking their 23rd district crown meet rival Hollidaysburg in the finals at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Francis University.
Freshman Kyla Irwin proved to be a handful for Altoona with 28 points, 13 rebounds and a pair of blocks, but aside from her and Altomare, no one else scored more than four points and the team made just 17 of 56 field goal attempts.
“We have to distribute the scoring,” coach Bethany Irwin said. “We didn’t do that effectively.”
Altoona nearly had four girls in double figures, with 14 points apiece for Darby Lee and Kaycie Reffner — who drained three 3-pointers — along with 12 points for McKenzie Hatch and nine for Kayla Grimme.
Lee and Grimme were tandem threats in the paint, at 6-foot and 6-1, respectively, and both were whistled for their fourth fouls in the final 1:09 of the third quarter.
“Our first goal was to get the kids in foul trouble — the big ones,” Bethany Irwin said. “That was our No. 1 (goal). That was to our advantage. We just couldn’t get that run when they weren’t in the game.”
Her team did have a small run right after the departure of Lee and Grimme, netting 10 of the next 13 points. But when the Lady Little Lions got to their closest point of the second half at 46-43, when Taylor Allison drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Lauren Donley answered with a three 33 seconds later.
Three-point shooting proved to be the mathematical difference — the teams made the same number of field goals and free throws, but Altoona hit three more treys.
“Any time you have an open shot, whether it’s bigs or guards, you’ve got to knock it down,” Altoona coach Jill Helsel said. “Games like this, to get an open shot first of all is almost unheard of, and if they do get one they have to hit it.”
Lee fouled out with 2:06 left and the margin back to seven points, and Grimme was gone with 20 seconds left, but with bench help from Shania Feathers and Rachel Dibert, never got closer than the three-point final margin.
“Our big girls have been in trouble a lot of the season and from the beginning,” Helsel said. “It started wen we started our season and our bench has gotten a lot of experience and it showed tonight.”
The Lady Little Lions had a very up-and-down day of shooting, especially making just 2 of 16 attempts in the third quarter with plenty of drives to the basket altered by the presence of Lee and Grimme.
“It was frustrating,” Altomare said. “I was trying really hard to get it over them, (but) my shots didn’t fall.”
Despite her totals, the 6-foot-2 Kyla Irwin also found the interior tough to navigate, with several of her attempts blocked.
“She did what she was supposed to do,” Bethany Irwin said of her daughter. “We got some kids in foul trouble, she stayed out of foul trouble. I expected her to do an awful lot, and I think she did. She did really well against two really strong post players against her.”