High School Sports

State College girls’ basketball defeats McDowell, advances to PIAA tournament

Points were few and far between — and State College girls’ basketball coach Chris Leazier knew a modest run by either side could solidify a victory.

Thankfully for the Lady Little Lions, they were on the right end of that decisive sequence.

State College secured its spot in the PIAA Class 6A tournament with a 32-22 win over McDowell in Saturday afternoon’s subregional contest, utilizing a five-point, third-quarter swing that felt like a scoring spree.

“I think that kind of cracked it,” Leazier said of the run’s impact on an offensively deficient game. “We felt that, hey, if anyone can get a six-point lead, they’re in a good position. Because no one could score.”

State College freshman Maya Bokunewicz was the only player to reach double-digits, scoring 14 points. Senior guard Kayla Hawbaker chipped in nine points, and classmate Taylor Love dominated on the block, tallying 17 rebounds and four blocks. The Lady Little Lions will face District 7 third-place finisher Mount Lebanon in the first round of the state tournament Friday.

Daria Elwell’s eight points led McDowell, with five in the first half.

The game’s first 16 minutes were plagued by turnovers and missed opportunities, but it was Bokunewicz who revived the crowd at Slippery Rock’s Morrow Field House.

In a 30-second span at the top of the third quarter, the freshman, after struggling mightily in the first half, hit a pair of free throws and followed up with a fastbreak layup to give State College a 16-11 lead.

It started a nice stretch for Bokunewicz, who scored eight of State College’s next 11 points.

“I was having a tough time,” she said of her first couple of quarters. “I really needed to calm down. I came back out and put my mind to it.”

Leazier was proud of the way the freshman responded to early adversity.

“She’s really young, and this is a game to get into the state tournament,” the coach said. “But we have all the confidence in Maya, and we knew that she’d flip a switch eventually. Talent kind of takes over.”

Bokunewicz had some help, too. Her fastbreak layup was facilitated by a steal on the other end by State College sophomore Lexi Risha.

Risha, a rotation defender, stepped up, picking off a McDowell pass and pushing it forward to her teammate. Leazier called Risha’s steal “a real catalyst” for the momentum shift — and the guard thought the same.

“That was a really big pump-up play,” Risha said with a smile. “I could feel that we were going to keep it going. We weren’t going to have a lull.”

To the Lady Little Lions’ credit, they didn’t forfeit the lead. The fourth quarter was all State College, as Bokunewicz hit an early corner 3-pointer, Love commanded the paint with seven rebounds, and Hawbaker finished off the game with five made free throws.

It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but thanks to the third-quarter surge and composure down the stretch, the Lady Little Lions are continuing their season.

After a seven-game losing streak in January, a PIAA berth wasn’t likely.

“It would’ve been easy to say, ‘When is the first day of spring break, and where am I going?’” Leazier said. “These kids hung in there, and we’re really pleased that they played their way into the state bracket.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9