It was a third quarter the State College girls’ basketball team would like to forget.
Unfortunately, it was a quarter that ended the Lady Little Lions’ season.
Mount Lebanon used a big run to open the second half to knock out State College 62-44 in the PIAA Class 6A first round on Friday night at Bald Eagle Area High School.
“I’ve really enjoyed coaching this team, especially over the last three weeks,” first-year State College coach Chris Leazier said. “This means we’ve got to put the uniforms away and Mount Lebanon gets to play one more.”
The Lady Devils’ one more will be against WPIAL rival North Allegheny, a 50-34 winner over Hempfield.
Kate Sramac’s 21 points paced North Allegheny (19-6), Alyssa Hyland added 13 and McKenzee Bushee notched 10.
Maya Bukonewicz netted 17 points for the Lady Little Lions (10-15), Kayla Hawbaker added 11 and Ellie Strauss grabbed five rebounds.
Mount Lebanon’s size and strength in the paint was a major factor. State College had at least10 shots blocked, and the Lady Devils won the rebounding battle 46-30.
“They really doubled down every time we drove in,” said Taylor Love, who grabbed eight of the Lady Little Lions’ rebounds. “They kind of collapsed on us. We just weren’t getting the rebounds we needed in the second half.”
Hawbaker and Bokunewicz were the biggest victims of that shot blocking and watched their drives through the lane thwarted countless times.
“We wanted them to stay aggressive,” Leazier said. “We wanted our guards into the paint because we knew that Mount Lebanon’s a very well-drilled team and, when the ball gets into the paint off the dribble, they collapse and send a lot of help to that. We wanted a few more of those maybe to go to kick-outs.”
The rebounding disparity also contributed to plenty of second- and third-chance opportunities for Mount Lebanon.
“I just kind of decided we’re not a good defensive rebounding team no matter who’s out there,” Leazier said. “We thought the smaller group gave us advantages offensively.”
The third quarter, however, was decided by some hot and cold shooting.
State College trailed by only three points at halftime, and after a Lexi Risha 3-pointer the Lady Little Lions were down just 27-25 less than a minute into the second half.
Mount Lebanon then launched a 16-5 run to take control, with a pair of Sramac 3-pointers in there, along with Hyland also draining a 3 and adding a steal and layup.
“I think Kate Sramac really turned it on,” Lady Devils coach Dori Oldaker said. “(She was) really catching her fire, her competitive fire, which she really has.”
Sramac scored 10 of her points in the third quarter as the team hit eight of its first 12 shots of the frame while State College made just 3 of 13 shots over the first six minutes.
The cold shooting meant the Lady Little Lions didn’t have as much time to drop back on defense against the fast-paced Devils.
“When you go on those droughts, the defense becomes so much tougher,” Leazier said. “You just can’t break, and it’s a good offensive team.”
By the end of the run the margin was 45-30 with a little over nine minutes left.
State College chipped away a little at a time, and just before the midpoint of the final frame, Hawbaker turned a steal into a layup to slice the lead to 49-41.
But that would be the team’s final field goal of the night as the cold shooting returned to help Mount Lebanon lock up the win.
“We got it together a little bit in the second half,” Love said. “Not the best ending.”
For a team getting used to a new coach, a new system and a number of new starters, the team survived a tough midseason stretch to return to the state tournament.
“It sucks, but we had a good year overall,” said Love, who will be playing at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., this fall. “It’s hard having a new coach, but it was fun.”