You couldn’t pick two more contrasting styles as State College met Mifflin County in the semifinals of the District 6 Class AAAA girls’ basketball tournament.
The Lady Little Lions wanted to pound the ball inside to post players Kyla Irwin and Jalyn Shelton-Burleigh, while Mifflin County went inside to set up passes to its outside shooters.
For the third time this season, inside beat outside.
Irwin and Shelton-Burleigh combined for 47 points as the second-seeded Lady Little Lions advanced to the district title game with a 68-49 romp on Satursday at Bald Eagle Area High School. State College (16-7) will face fourth-seeded Altoona, which upset top-seeded Hollidaysburg 54-47, in the title game at 7 p.m. Thursday at Saint Francis University.
The first two meetings between the teams were close, with State College winning 52-46 and 51-48.
The Lady Little Lions strategy was evident from the start in the third matchup as Irwin and Shelton-Burleigh combined to net the Lady Little Lions’ first 27 points. The two had 28 of the Lady Little Lions’ 33 first-half points as State College overcame four 3-pointers to take a a nine-point halftime lead.
“That’s awesome,” said Irwin, who had 18 of her game-high 29 at the break. “Our strength is definitely our inside game. Our guards are smart and they know where to give it to us. ... Our guards just did an awesome job getting us the ball.”
Shelton-Burleigh, who finished with 18, has been coming on strong down the stretch, registering multiple game-highs, including a 23-point game against ollidaysburg. Her scoring has alleviated the pressure on Irwin.
“It’s really nice that they really have to start going out on J,” said Irwin, a sophomore center. “She’s doing a phenomenal job. It definitely helps me more by not getting pushed or shoved as much.”
State College coach Bethany Irwin said the Lady Little Lions made a slight adjustment to get her inside players the ball on Saturday. Instead of posting up on the block, she had Kyla Irwin and Shelton-Burleigh move out closer to the foul line to open a passing lane for point guard Carrie Mahon.
“If we’re posting up on the block, we can’t lob it,” Bethany Irwin said. “They moved up to the second hash and that gave a lot of room for Carrie to get the ball in to Kyla and Jalyn.”
Mifflin County (12-11) came out firing in the second half. Three 3-pointers, including two by Ashleigh Williams triggered an 11-4 outburst that got the Lady Huskies to within 37-35 midway through the third quarter. The Lady Little Lions went right back to Shelton-Burleigh and Irwin for baskets and Mahon’s 3-point play pushed the margin back 44-35.
“Their strength is obviously their outside shooting,” Bethany Irwin said. “We knew we really had to pound the ball inside.”
State College even got some outside magic to end the period on 3-pointers from Maggie Hurley and Bridget King to push the lead to 51-40. Irwin then drilled a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter. After a Williams basket, Shelton-Burleigh scored on three consecutive layups to push the State College lead to 60-42 with 4 1/2 minutes left. The Lady Little Lions cruised from there.
Mifflin County coach Roger Herto said he was surprised at the outcome and State College’s output.
“I really though 50 was going to win it,” he said. “... I really felt confident coming in here. We had our two best practices of the season to get ready for this. You have to give them credit. The biggest difference was their inside game.”
Williams led the Lady Huskies with 24 points. King notched 13 for State College.
The Lady Little Lion victory sets up a rubber match with Altoona. The Lady Mountain Lions handed State College its fifth consecutive loss with a 62-56 win in mid-January, but since that contest the Lady Little Lions have won 9 of 10, including a 66-42 romp against Altoona on Wednesday.
“That game was our turning point,” Bethany Irwin said of the first clash with Altoona. “We were on a downhill slide in the month of January. We still lost that game, but that was huge turning point for us. We put together a decent game, where the girls were fighting for it and we won the next ones after that.”
“I don’t want to jinx us and say that we’re peaking,” added Irwin, whose squad is in its first district title game in three seasons. “I just want to say that the girls are focused and they know what they have to do to get the job done.”
Even though State College manhandled Altoona (10-11) in the last meeting, Kyla Irwin expects a tight clash Thursday.
“They’re definitely going to adapt to what we did in the last game,” the center said. “Altoona is a good 3-point shooting team so we really have to adapt, play hard and work hard with everything.”