Bethany Irwin was wondering if the fans sitting in the gymnasium’s bleachers could here the halftime speech she and her husband and assistant coach, Rob, gave to her team.
The words were not kind, and the volume was turned up.
After scoring just eight points in the first half, it took a little while for the words to sink in as the deficit got even deeper, but the Lady Little Lions eventually got the message.
State College rallied from 15 points down to edge Burrell 40-36 Tuesday evening in the championship game of the Kiwanis Holiday Basketball Classic.
“Their backs were against the wall,” Irwin said. “I love the fact that they came out and they fought for that thing. What a difference. That was basketball. That’s the stuff that’s going to get you past a better team.”
Kyla Irwin’s 20 points and 10 rebounds paced the Lady Little Lions (7-3), who take a five-game win streak into the new year and a return to play in the Mid-Penn Conference.
To say the team didn’t play its best basketball in the first half would be an understatement, and the Irwins — Bethany and Rob — both felt they need to vent at halftime. The Lady Little Lions trailed 18-8, making just 3 of their 15 field goal attempts. The two teams also went scoreless over the final 4:15 of the half.
“I’m always the bad cop. I have to vent, and Rob always has to pick up the pieces,” Bethany Irwin said. “... They got a double dose, and then I sent them out (of the locker room) and they still had five minutes left to shoot. It was embarrassing.”
“They put it in perspective that we really needed to pick up our game,” said Ali Treglia, who added 13 points, with all but two in the final 10 minutes. “Everyone on our team is strong enough mentally and it showed in that second half. The ability to rebuild after such a poor quarter, two poor quarters, we were able to pick ourselves up.”
“I’m proud of the way they responded,” Irwin said. “A lesser person could have caved after what we said in the locker room.”
Her team had their hands full with Sydney Bordonaro, a senior guard headed to Pepperdine, and 6-foot junior forward Natalie Myers, who has drawn interest from a number of Division I programs. After helping the Lady Bucs (9-1) reach the PIAA semifinals last season, Bordonaro led them Tuesday with 17 points, and Myers added 12 points and 11 rebounds. The rest of the team accounted for seven points.
Even after the harsh words from the Irwins, the deficit got worse. Bordonaro drained a 3-pointer and added another bucket in the span of 13 seconds. Then, following a Kyla Irwin layup, Bordonaro scored again and Myers swiped the ensuing inbounds pass and scored for a 27-12 lead 2:30 into the second half.
But then, the tables were turned drastically.
It started with a Maggie Hurley layup, then Irwin drove the baseline and put up a reverse layup. Not long after, a Lady Little Lion shot was missed and a Lady Buc pulled down the rebound, but she held it above her head under the basket, and the 6-foot-2 Irwin plucked it right from the smaller girl’s hands and tossed in another bucket.
“She outhustled us,” Burrell coach Meghan Ziemianski said. “We played really good (defense) to hold them to eight points in the first half. It showed we could play with them. Then when Natalie (Myers) got in foul trouble, the younger girls, the sophomores — (Irwin) out-bodied them for sure.”
Back-to-back old-fashioned 3-point plays for Irwin and Treglia stoked the fires even hotter, a baseline jumper for Treglia added to the run and a Taylor Love layup closed the third quarter with State College trailing just 27-26.
“The most frustrating part is you rely on those two girls,” Ziemianski said of Myers and Bordonaro. “If they don’t give anything, and nobody else is scoring, then you know it’s hard to pull back out of that (second-half scoring drought).”
A pair of Irwin put-backs in the first 70 seconds of the fourth completed the 18-0 run and had the Lady Little Lions ahead 30-27.
“We weren’t satisfied because we always want to win,” Treglia said. “We wanted to keep that momentum going, and we were cutting it pretty close toward the end.”
The teams then traded the lead four times before an Irwin putback and free throw gave State College the lead for good at 36-34 with 1:29 left, with Lady Little Lion free throws and more missed shots for Burrell closing the game.
“It was definitely a tough hole,” Treglia said. “But we knew we had it within ourselves to pick it up again. We all have individual talent, but to come together as a team, that’s a difficult thing and we did that really well.”
State College made 12 of 22 field goals in the second half, while the Lady Bucs hit just 7 of 21 after the break, and just three baskets were made in the game’s final 13 minutes. They also turned the ball over nine times after intermission.
“We got into ‘bitty-ball’ mistakes,” Ziemianski said. “That’s how you lose the lead. You’re conceding, giving them the ball back.”
The first half may have been abysmal, but what they did in the second half, against the No. 3 team in the state in Class AA, will pay dividends later in the season.
“This type of comeback,” Treglia said, “shows us we can do anything we set our minds to.”