The start was not what the Bald Eagle Area girls’ basketball wanted to see.
It something from which the Lady Eagles could not recover, and it brought an end to their season.
Westmont Hilltop scored 21 of the game’s first 25 points and never let BEA pull back to within single digits in a 59-43 victory Friday night at Hollidaysburg High School.
The game was a District 6 Class AA consolation game, with the Hilltoppers advancing to face Bishop Canevin in the first round of the PIAA tournament next Friday and the Lady Eagles packing up their gear for the spring.
Paige Lambertson and Erin Rogers combined for 17 first-quarter points, and each finished with 17 points, to lead the Hilltoppers (21-5). Rachel Roper added 12 points.
Marissa Ward scored all but one of her 17 points after halftime as she tried to spark a rally, Kaitlyn Miller added nine points, five assists and four rebounds and Mary Pillot grabbed five rebounds for BEA (22-3), which was beaten in the postseason for a second straight year by Westmont-Hilltop.
“We just picked the worst time to not play our best basketball,” Lady Eagles coach Troy Butterworth said. “I told the girls, I’d play Blairsville (which won in Wednesday’s semifinals), I’d play Westmont again tomorrow. We hit our shots it’s a different game.”
BEA struggled with 16-for-45 shooting from the floor and 10-for-20 from the foul line. Westmont Hilltop made 18 of 43 field goals and 18 of 24 free throws.
BEA could not have asked for a worse start, seeing Lamberson drilling three 3-pointers in the first 1:34, although the Lady Eagles had scored on their first two possessions.
“It killed us,” Butterworth said. “It’s my fault. I didn’t have them ready I guess. I shouldn’t have played the defense I did. I knew they could shoot. I didn’t know they could shoot that well.”
Butterworth faulted himself for not switching defenses faster to keep Westmont Hilltop from hitting the fast threes
“This loss has nothing to do with those girls there,” Butterworth said. “This one’s on me. I didn’t switch up fast enough.”
But BEA would go better than six minutes without another point, Rogers would net eight points of her own, including a trey and a three-point play, and soon the margin was at 21-4 before Mary Pillot stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer with 19 seconds left in the quarter.
“That just killed us,” said Miller. “They hit three threes in a row – done. That’s hard to come back. We get into such a big hole in the beginning and it’s hard to get out.”
The start even surprised Westmont Hilltop.
“For us at this stage of the season, in a do-or-die game,’ for us to jump out to that big of a lead was kind of shocking,” Hilltoppers coach Jodi Hillegass said. “We just had everything going right, it it didn’t seem to be going right for them.”
The game was basically a deadlock the rest of the way.
Westmont Hilltop’s largest lead was 49-27 late in the third quarter, and as close as 52-41 midway through the fourth, but with every BEA rally, the Hilltoppers replied.
“There was nothing we could do,” Butterworth said. “Every time we scored, it seemed like every time we made a basket or made a run, they answered and that’s what good teams do in the playoffs.”
The Lady Eagles’ final desperate surge was keyed by Ward, who repeatedly slashed to the basket trying to will a comeback almost by herself, but after she missed a pair of free throws with 3:03 left which could have cut the lead to nine points, the heat seemed to leave the BEA squad.
“I’m sure people will say, ‘You made it a one-man game, and one man against five,’” Butterworth said. “But she’s a smart enough player that she knows if she dribbles in there and can’t get a shot, she’ll kick it (out to a teammate). I thought she had some pretty good success taking it to the basket. There (weren’t) too many girls that could stop her.”
It nonetheless capped the best season in BEA girls’ basketball history, with only one regular-season loss, a Mountain League championship, a top seed for the district tournament, a district playoff win and the program’s first appearance in the semifinals.
“I want it all back,” said Butterworth, who will lose his entire starting lineup and more to graduation. “I want the whole season back because I don’t want to lose the six seniors I have. They are a very special group.”
They fell just one win short of a first-ever trip to the state tournament.
“We obviously wanted to go to states, but we had a good season,” Miller said. “We had the most wins in basketball history at Bald Eagle. All in all it was good, but it’s still hard that we lost and this was our last year.”