This wasn’t the end of the season Bellefonte girls’ basketball coach Adam Gearhart had envisioned.
His Lady Red Raiders had started to pick up some wins and an identity on the court through much of January, but they have been struggling again lately, and had a tough time again putting away Bald Eagle Area on Tuesday night.
“This is what I call the last-minute prom date,” Gearhart said. “It ain’t pretty but you take it. I know. I was a last-minute prom date twice. ... You take these wins, uncomfortable or not. Especially with us, we’re going to take every win we can get this season.”
Bellefonte overcame shooting and turnover woes and held off another struggling team in the Lady Eagles, who were missing three starters in the 36-28 Mountain League contest.
“I guess that defines the rivalry right there,” Gearhart said. “They’re down a few people but they hung with us, and we let them hang around.”
Jess Book paced the Lady Raiders (6-13) with 13 points, seven rebounds and four steals, while Mara Tamminga added nine points and five steals, Ally Steen grabbed nine rebounds and Lauren Young had eight rebounds.
Julia Cingle’s 12 points paced the Lady Eagles (5-17), who closed their season Tuesday and said goodbye to seniors Haley Giedroc and Maddie Cingle, who was home sick to miss her final game.
With two other starters from the beginning of the campaign also out with season-ending injuries, a very youthful Lady Eagle lineup took the court Tuesday and the inexperience showed in the team’s 26 turnovers and cold shooting.
“It’s good for them to get in these situations,” coach Troy Butterworth said. “They see what it’s like in a big pressure game against a rival school.”
Dropping nine of their final 11 games, it’s been a tough stretch for the Lady Eagles, who had five freshmen and five sophomore on the 13-girl roster.
“A lot of injuries and sickness, it seemed like everything hit us this year,” Butterworth said. “Tonight was the team I expected. We don’t score a lot but we play solid defense and hopefully we can be in the game and try to score.”
The game turned in the final minute of the third quarter, after neither team led by more than three points over the first 23 minutes of action.
Seconds after Raisa Gregor was whistled for her fourth foul, but stayed in the game, she swiped the ball near midcourt and raced down for a layup. Just 13 seconds later, Book had a steal that also turned into two points. Then, after a BEA timeout and another turnover, Young put back a miss for a bucket with 23 seconds left.
“We wanted that from the beginning,” said Gearhart, whose team forced 10 BEA turnovers in the third quarter. “We were in a diamond-and-one, we were just sort of slacking off. We were back to doing that we’ve been doing. We’ve been on our heels.”
After a Lady Eagle free throw to open the fourth, a Tamminga 3-pointer from the top of the key had the lead at 25-17, and with the way the game had been flowing, that lead seemed almost insurmountable.
“We had that one little slide in the third quarter and that was the back-breaker. We didn’t handle the pressure,” Butterworth said. “You chalk that up to youth.”
The road got even tougher when the lone Lady Eagle senior in the game, Giedroc, fouled out with just under two minutes left. The guard was serenaded by the BEA fans with “Thank you Haley!”
“If Giedroc doesn’t get in foul trouble, maybe it’s a different game,” said Butterworth, whose team lost 38-28 to its rivals last month. “She’s our rock.”
The margin grew as large as 10, and as close as five in the final minute, but the Lady Eagles never got any closer.
While BEA’s season ended, Bellefonte has two games left, and both will be missing the District 6 playoffs. But they both battled in a game that had drama all the way to the final horn.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Gearhart said. “You don’t get comfortable.”