The State College girls’ basketball team knew the lead was anything but safe. It was a matter of holding on.
Clinging to a two-point lead, Mifflin County’s Rylie Rittenhouse rolled around a screen, caught the ball and unfurled a shot from the wing about 22 feet from the basket.
Everyone in the gym held their breath, but the ball bounced off the rim at the final buzzer.
The Lady Little Lions survived.
“Rittenhouse got an open look,” State College coach Chris Leazier said, “and from where I was, it looked like it was going to go in.”
The Lady Little Lions survived in their District 6 Class 6A semifinal 50-48 over the Lady Huskies on Wednesday night, setting up yet another district title-game tangle with Altoona. The teams will meet at 6 p.m. Friday at Tyrone Middle School.
“It was definitely stressful,” said Taylor Love, who had a huge night with 25 points and 13 rebounds. “We pulled it out in the end. It was a lot of good team defense.”
The Lady Little Lions led by 10 at halftime and were up by nine after a Love free throw with 6:07 to go. But a few seconds later, the senior forward was whistled for her fourth foul, and it made her a little tentative.
“I knew I had to be careful with at least five minutes left,” Love said. “I played a little less (aggressive), I didn’t go for blocks and stuff, just going for the rebounds.”
Mifflin County, which had been shooting poorly all night, finally started to hit some shots and turned up the defensive pressure to create a couple turnovers. In less than two minutes, the margin was down to one.
“We expected a fight in the second half and we got it,” Leazier said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of this group.”
While the Lady Huskies never got the lead, the teams traded a few buckets before Maya Bokunewicz swiped the ball to start a break the other way, setting up Kayla Hawbaker for a layup and a four-point lead with 2:46 left. A Bokunewicz free throw extended the lead to five with 1:15 left.
The freshman, who scored 15 points, sank two more from the line with 21.1 seconds left to again deliver a five-point lead, and account for her team’s final points of the night.
“She’s really good for a freshman,” Love said. “The nerves don’t get to her.”
However, Allison Prendergast drilled a 3 from the corner nine seconds later, and Bokunewicz was fouled again. This time the freshman missed both with 10.7 left, with a Mifflin County timeout in the middle to ice her, setting up Rittenhouse’s final attempt.
“The last play was exactly as diagrammed,” Lady Huskies coach Roger Herto said. “(We) ran Rylie off a double (screen), had two nice screens, Rylie had a real nice look at it and I would let Rylie have that shot every time.”
State College had taken control with a 13-0 run over a stretch of 3 1/2 minutes in the second quarter, with all but two of the points scored by either Love or Bokuniewicz. In fact, the pair accounted for all but four of the team’s first-half points as the Lady Little Lions hit 50 percent of their field goals. The two scoring leaders combined to miss just four of their 14 first-half attempts.
Helping that shooting percentage were four back-door layups for Love.
“We knew we had to have something against their 2-3 zone to get her into that spot,” Leazier said. “We put that in this week and the kids executed that beautifully.”
While the Little Lions were torching the net, the Lady Huskies struggled. They hit just 20 percent of their first-half tries and 27 percent for the game, buoyed by their hot stretch in the fourth quarter.
“Unfortunately, we missed, and we missed, and we missed, and we missed wide open shots,” Herto said. “Mentally what happens for a kid, that bucket just starts to get smaller and smaller and smaller.”
Herto’s team was led by Eleana Eckley’s 14 points, Ericka Lepley’s 12 and Hannah Aumiller’s 10.
Hawbaker finished with an all-around game of eight points, six rebounds and five assists as the Lady Little Lions look to defend their district crown against the Lady Mountain Lions.
“We just have to keep our defense up,” Love said. “It’s going to be a tough game both ways.”