High School Sports

Bellefonte girls’ basketball hopes to turn first-round loss into motivation for next season

Bellefonte’s Maddie Steiner dribbles around Trinity’s Sierra Kotchman during Saturday’s playoff game at Bald Eagle Area High School. Trinity won 67-22.
Bellefonte’s Maddie Steiner dribbles around Trinity’s Sierra Kotchman during Saturday’s playoff game at Bald Eagle Area High School. Trinity won 67-22. adrey@centredaily.com

Every time Bellefonte freshman Mallorie Smith steps into the gym this offseason, she said she’s going to think about Saturday’s loss.

It’s a difficult game to forget for the Bellefonte girls’ basketball team, one they’re already hoping to parlay into motivation for next season. The Lady Red Raiders fell to Trinity in a one-sided affair, 67-22, during the first round of the PIAA Class 5A state tournament Saturday at Bald Eagle Area High School.

Next season is already on the Lady Raiders’ minds.

“We’ll definitely use this as motivation, this and also the district championship game,” Smith said, referring also to the District 6-8-9 title game defeat. “We’re hoping to get back next year, so we’ll think about what happened this year and use that as motivation.”

Despite the lopsided defeat, most girls milled around the gym after the game and smiled. Some fans greeted their favorite players with hugs and motivational posters; other friends and family members congratulated the girls on a memorable season.

Bellefonte was never supposed to make it this far, after all. This was the Lady Raiders’ first state playoff appearance since 2010 — back when Smith was still trying to master multiplication in third grade — and most of the team chose to focus on how far they’d come, rather than how far they have to go.

“I’m really proud,” Smith said. “We were underdogs the whole season. Against everyone, we were underdogs.”

Bellefonte knew it was in for a challenge within the game’s first two minutes. Trinity strolled out to a 10-0 lead just 1:56 into the first quarter, as the disparity between the two squads was evident immediately. Trinity was faster, its offense more balanced and its defense more aggressive.

When the Lady Raiders tried to prevent an inside shot, Trinity went outside. It nailed nine 3-pointers. And when it stayed inside, it wasn’t unusual to see Trinity come up with two or three offensive rebounds before nailing a put-back. The Hilltoppers shot lights-out.

“I’m surprised there are lights left in the gym the way they shot,” Bellefonte coach Adam Gearhart said. “We hadn’t seen anything like that all season.”

Gearhart bit his lower lip and grew quiet after the game while talking about this year’s team. He needed a few moments to gather himself.

He passionately spoke about their heart, how they responded after opening the season with four losses in five games. And he commended their fight, how they fell to Central by 35 and Tyrone by 25 early in the season — but lost by only 14 and 10 later in the year, in games that were closer than even the scores indicated.

“Hopefully, in four-five years, when this program is turned all the way around, they can look back and thank this group, these seniors,” Gearhart said. “They set the template for what I want.”

Added senior Lauren Young: “I think this year really set the foundation for the upcoming years. I won’t be here, but we have a lot of talented freshmen and a lot of upcoming middle schoolers that I see a lot of potential in.”

Young finished second on Bellefonte with five points, while freshman Maddie Steiner led the team with 12. For Trinity, three players surpassed the double-digit mark: Sierra Kotchman (19), Alayna Cappelli (18) and Riley DeRubbo (15).

Both Steiner and Smith thanked the seniors for the team exceeding expectations this year. And both also referred to Young as “mom,” saying she — like the other two seniors — helped bring the underclassmen along this season. When the freshmen struggled at practice, Young was there to pull them aside.

Soon enough, it’ll be the freshmen’s turn to take on that role. And they’ll be thinking back to those seniors — and Saturday’s game.

“We’re absolutely going to come back and do our best and show everyone we can do it,” Steiner said. “We’re coming back.”