From the opening tipoff, State College versus Kittanning appeared to be a mismatch.
State College freshman forward Kyla Irwin dwarfed Kittanning’s Kirsten Wolfe as the two met at the halfcourt-center circle.
Irwin controlled the tip easily and when Jenna Altomare missed a jumper later that possession, Irwin simply reached over Wolfe’s head for the offensive rebound and stick-back.
The Lady Little Lions played a sluggish first-half in the opening round of the Kiwanis Holiday Basketball Classic, but rolled in the second en route to a 67-49 victory.
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“We had four days off and a few of our kids are pretty sick right now and we kind of played that way,” said head coach Bethany Irwin. “We did some things well and some kids hit some nice shots, but there just wasn’t any fire there.”
Kyla Irwin led all scorers with 27 points. Taylor Allison added 13 and Franki Treglia scored 12 off the bench.
State College began to pull away in the second quarter with a barrage of 3-pointers. After Emily Knepshield hit a three to pull the Wildcats to within 14-12 to start the frame, Allison answered with a three of her own.
Then Treglia hit two more from the left wing and suddenly the State College lead was 23-13. In fact, of the Lady Little Lions 14 second-quarter points 12 came from behind the arc.
“Their goal was to pack it inside,” Bethany Irwin said. “Kittanning wasn’t very tall so they were going to try and shut down our big kids inside, but our guards hit some shots for us.”
“Franki came off the bench and hit some really nice shots,” Irwin continued. “I was really happy for her. And then Taylor hit some too.”
Knepshield led Kittanning with 15 points while Kirsten Wolfe added 10. The Wildcats stayed close and went into halftime down just 28-19, holding Kyla Irwin to just six points at intermission.
However, that success was short lived. Irwin scored 21 points in the second half.
If the Wildcats did a good job of playing keep away from Irwin early, they failed late. The ball even seemed to accidentally find its way into the freshman’s fingers in the second half.
After an Allison three from the right wing caromed off the rim, Bridget King got a hand on the rebound but couldn’t gain control. But the deflection landed right in Irwin’s hands for an easy two, pushing the lead to 43-25 with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
Then Irwin went to work with a more conventional approach.
She set a ball screen for Allsion (who hit a game-high three 3-pointers) and when Wildcat defenders overreacted to the hot shooter, Irwin slithered to the basket and received a bullet from Allison for a layup.
“In the second half we adjusted and went to our high-low action to get things going inside,” Bethany Irwin said.
Bridget King scored seven points, all in the second half, most of which came from State College’s inside-out game plan.
“Bridget King is one of the girls that’s not feeling well ... but she gave us really good minutes,” Irwin said. “She took two charges and hit her first three of the season. I’m really happy for Bridget because she stayed focused and did what she had to do.”
State College will face Upper Darby in the championship game at 5:30 p.m. The Royals took care of Red Lion 59-49 in the tournament’s early game. Dominique Williams, a 5-foot-10 junior, scored 23 points for Upper Darby while Tyra Polite, a senior, added 20.
“It’s going to be a tough one for us,” Irwin said. “They have some really nice players, (Williams) in particular. Different style from today; they’re a little bit stronger and a little bit quicker. They have a really nice outside shooter and slasher (Polite), so we’ll have our hands full.”