The lead was at 20 points and the State College girls’ basketball team was red-hot with its shooting.
It turned out that lead was hardly safe, and Mifflin County desperately tried to pull off the rally.
“I don’t know what would have happened if we had to play another quarter,” Lady Little Lions coach Bethany Irwin said Thursday night after her team held on for a 67-57 victory.
Behind 28 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, three steals and three assists for Kyla Irwin, and 14 points and 10 rebounds for Jalyn Shelton-Burleigh, the Lady Little Lions (13-6, 10-4) exploited their size inside to close their Mid Penn Conference schedule and knock off their rivals from over Seven Mountains.
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“Always like to get that big win,” guard Maggie Hurley said. “That’s a big one for us, really.”
Mifflin County (7-11, 5-9) made its comeback thanks to its long-range shooting, with half of the team’s 20 made field goals coming from beyond the 3-point arc. Rylie Rittenhouse made two of them and led her team with 16 points, Jessa Wright drained four 3s and finished with 14 points, and Maggie Wilson tossed in 12 points.
State College collected plenty of points thanks to some unselfish offense. Of the 26 made field goals, 16 had assists, and six different girls had at least one assist.
“I love to look for the open player, love feeding my teammates,” said Hurley, who led her team with six helpers to go with nine points. “I think once I can get an assist, it picks everyone up. Multiple people involved in the play, and we make big shots.
“When you make the extra pass, it opens up better shots for someone else.”
Ali Treglia added four assists to go with her eight points.
“Assists are the best things out there,” Bethany Irwin said. “In the beginning, everybody looked for everybody. That is a nice thing.”
Of the buckets that didn’t have assists, two were conversions off turnovers and eight were products of offensive rebounds. State College won the battle of the boards 34-24, thanks to the size of Kyla Irwin and Shelton-Burleigh.
“We had to pound it inside,” Bethany Irwin said. “They couldn’t stop Kyla or Jay.”
The Lady Little Lions were feeling pretty good in the locker room at halftime. The lead was 41-21, they were shooting 55 percent from the field, the Lady Huskies were shooting 32 percent and had committed a dozen turnovers.
A pair of Shelton-Burleigh buckets in the second half’s first 86 seconds had the margin at its largest of 45-21 to make a blowout seem around the corner.
But Mifflin County started to whip the ball around the perimeter, stretching the State College defense, and found some openings. The Lady Huskies hit six of their first nine shots after the break, including long bombs from Wright, and they took off on a 16-2 run to slice the margin to 10.
“You can’t shut down,” Hurley said. “They came out pretty strong. I’ll give that to them. But we kept our cool, held onto the ball and took good shots when they were big.”
But a turnover led to an Irwin layup, and she swiped the ball and scored again 19 seconds later to slow down the Huskies.
In the fourth quarter, after the margin grew back to 16 points, Mifflin County scored 10 straight points, spurred by back-to-back Rittenhouse 3-pointers. That had the Lady Huskies at their closest point at 58-52 with 3:28 left.
But once again the ball was fed inside to Irwin, and Mifflin County never got the momentum back.
“Once we dropped into man (to man defense) we did a better job helping each other out,” Hurley said. “In our zone, they found the corner shots and they had players hit big threes.”
After the first-half shooting difficulties, the Huskies were an impressive 13 for 20 (65 percent) shooting after halftime, with six 3-pointers.
“That was a tale of two halves,” Bethany Irwin said. “... I’m just thankful we had a lead of 20. They shot the lights out.”
The Lady Little Lions have three non-league games left before the District 6 tournament, and after seeing so many players miss time with injuries or illness, they are hoping they finally have the engine running a little more smoothly.
“We finally have everybody healthy now going into February,” Bethany Irwin said. “We haven’t played together all the time. We’ve had so many different combinations ... but it’s given other kids opportunities to do things.”