It was a 1-2 punch just too tough to take.
First, the State College girls’ basketball team went on a drought of 9:22 without a field goal. Then, Altoona started ripping one 3-pointer after another through the net.
“We knew they were capable of it,” Lady Little Lions coach Chris Leazier said. “I don’t know if I would say it’s frustrating, but ... we’ve been through a lot of ups and downs.”
It was a deficit too difficult to overcome in a 54-42 Altoona victory for the District 6 Class 6A championship. Altoona went on a 20-1 run during that drought.
The Lady Lions head to the PIAA tournament starting March 7, but the Lady Little Lions are not done yet, getting a subregional at a date and time next week to be determined. State College (9-14), which beat Altoona in last year’s final, will face McDowell in the PIAA play-in game.
“It’s heartbreaking that you lose a district championship game,” said Kayla Hawbaker, who had six points and seven rebounds. “But it’s definitely a relief that the season’s not over yet.”
Tayor Love’s 11 points and 14 rebounds led the Lady Little Lions, with Maya Bokunewicz also netting 11 points.
While Paige Whitfield’s 12 points and Amber Newberry’s 10 led Altoona, no one player was throwing the big daggers to take down State College. Instead, it was a group effort. Of the team’s 16 field goals in the game, half were from long range, with five different girls sinking at least one.
“We were trying to guard them from penetrating on us,” Hawbaker said. “Then they started to hit these 3s in our face. Both times we played them before, they weren’t bombing 3s like that.”
Leazier tried to adjust his defense, then adjust it again without success in the second quarter, with all six of the Lady Lions’ buckets in the period from beyond the arc.
“Hopefully the girls are just feeding off that momentum,” Altoona coach Miriam Colledge said. “I don’t know if we want to call it peaking. If that’s what it is, that’s great.”
At the other end, State College was mired in a major slump. After a Love basket 2:10 into the game, the Lady Little Lions had their only lead at 4-3. They wouldn’t sink another basket until well into the second quarter, and only a Love free throw early in the second kept it from being completely scoreless as Altoona burned through a 20-1 run that gave it an 18-point advantage.
“It was hard,” Hawbaker said. “Our shots weren’t falling. We were settling for shots when we should have drove the lane or dished it into Taylor who was posting up strong.”
The second alteration to the State College defense in the second period – going to a smaller lineup with guards Jessica Lingenfelter and Lexi Risha added to the perimeter lineup – may not have had a big impact in that quarter, but it worked well in the third. Altoona didn’t make a single 3-pointer and only tried one in the first minute.
“We were ready to fight,” Hawbaker said. “We could have just died at halftime, said ‘We’re down 16. They won this game.’ But we came out, we kept on fighting, kept the score close.”
A Risha 3-pointer with 2:18 left in the third sliced a 16-point deficit at intermission down to eight. But two missed free throws and two straight turnovers led to two Altoona buckets to close the period, and the lead would never again get to less than 10.
“That was kind of the game,” Leazier said of the sequence. “It was a bit of a back-breaker.”
While the Lady Little Lions attempted a late-game rally, the deficit from the first half proved just too much to overcome.
“When you go eight minutes without a field goal,” Leazier said, “and that’s combined with them shooting the ball quite well, then you get a big hole.”