High School Sports

State College girls’ basketball falls in opening round of PIAAs after tough finish

State College’s Maya Bokunewicz tries to fight through Bethel Park defenders during the game on Friday, March 8, 2019.
State College’s Maya Bokunewicz tries to fight through Bethel Park defenders during the game on Friday, March 8, 2019. adrey@centredaily.com

Isabelle Leazier tried to put her State College teammates on her back with a flurry of plays in the first two minutes of the fourth quarter.

Leazier had just knocked down a 3-pointer to bring the Lady Little Lions even with Bethel Park in the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A Girls’ Basketball Championships. She then blocked a 3-point shot on the next possession, which created a fast-break opportunity for the lead.

Unfortunately, her contested layup rolled out and Bethel Park’s Emma Dziegowski knocked down a huge 3-pointer at the other end after the scramble to put the Lady Hawks up for good.

Bethel Park iced the victory with six consecutive free throws in the final two minutes to pull out a 55-46 victory over State College at Bald Eagle Area High School.

“We had an open layup to go up two, and now we’d be heading into the late game with a lead, so let’s see how they respond,” State College head coach Chris Leazier said of the critical sequence early in the fourth quarter. “Instead, now they’re up three and we’re pressing a bit. That’s basketball.”

Friday night’s showdown was actually a rematch of a playoff matchup from last season when Bethel Park beat State College 53-35 in the second round of the PIAA championships.

Maya Bokunewicz put the Lady Little Lions in a good spot to avenge last year’s loss after three quarters. She poured in 10 points in the third quarter alone to tie the game at 39-39 after trailing by six at halftime. She finished with 14 total.

Bethel Park clamped down on her in the fourth quarter. The opponent limited her to a just single shot attempt in the final eight minutes by face guarding and chasing her around with a smaller defender.

“She’s a really good player,” Bethel Park head coach Jonna Burke said. “When she gets into the paint it’s super hard to defend her because she can elevate and she’s so tall. We don’t have size like that.”

State College also defended two of Bethel Park’s best players well, limiting Maria Cerro and Olivia Westphal to just 11 combined points.

Cerro gave the Lady Little Lions fits in last season’s PIAA showdown, but they held her to just 2-of-11 shooting on Friday night.

State College finished its season with a 17-7 record while Bethel Park (22-3) advanced to the second round of PIAA championships on Tuesday.

State College seniors Kelsey Love, Lexi Risha, Jess Lingenfelter, and Abbie La Porta helped the Lady Little Lions to better their win total each of the last three seasons — from 11 to 15 to 17.

“They’ve set us on a good course.” Chris Leazier said. “Of course, what you want to do when you’re a part of any organization is to contribute and leave it better than when you got here. Those four seniors have definitely done that.”