The emotional swings went back and forth in a matter of seconds.
The last time, the pendulum swung toward Altoona.
The championship dreams of the State College girls’ basketball team were spoiled Thursday night by a mad dash down the court by Paige Whitfield.
The sophomore guard’s basket with 5.7 seconds left gave Altoona a 46-45 victory over the Lady Little Lions in the District 6 Class AAAA finals at Mount Aloysius College.
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“Fighting the whole season and it comes down to one point,” said Kyla Irwin, who scored a game-high 17 points to go with seven rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocks. “That’s hard to put in words.”
Jalyn Shelton-Burleigh and Ali Treglia each added 11 points for the Lady Little Lions (13-8), with Shelton-Burleigh also pulling down seven rebounds.
Alayna Biesecker’s 13 points to go with seven rebounds led the Mountain Lions (13-11), who next head to the PIAA Tournament to face a to-be-determined fourth-place team from District 7. Whitfield added a dozen points and Amber Newberry had a game-high eight rebounds.
State College led for most of the game but never led by more than seven points, and Altoona battled back for a 44-42 lead after a pair of Newberry free throws with 1:59 left.
Maggie Hurley tied it with a baseline jumper with 1:40 left, and the teams traded possessions to set up the dramatic final emotional swings.
After an Altoona timeout with 18.1 seconds left, Treglia picked off an inbounds pass and raced to the other way, drawing a foul on Whitfield. The senior guard made the second of the attempts to give the Lady Little Lions a one-point lead.
“I was so depressed when I got called for that foul,” Whitfield said. “Then coming back down and then making that shot, it just felt so amazing.”
A State College timeout allowed both teams to set up the play, with Whitfield cutting around a screen for the inbounds pass and blazing all the way to the other end, hopping to her left at the elbow of the lane to take a 15-foot runner for the go-ahead score.
“I was very excited going down there,” Whitfield said, admitting she thought she missed the shot, “but I was so scared at the same time.”
The Lady Little Lions immediately got the ball in before calling their final timeout with 3.6 seconds left. They set up a play from the sideline for Irwin, she grabbed the ball at midcourt, took three dribbles and put up a desperation 3-pointer that bounced off the glass.
“It felt really good,” Irwin said. “If anything it felt a little too high, but it felt good range. It was just too long.”
It was tough for the team to see Whitfield zip down the court so quickly on the winning bucket.
“She’s done that multiple times during the season,” Kyla Irwin said. “I think we should have tried to slow her down sooner, and I don’t think we picked her up fast enough. She’s done that move thousands of times.”
With a one-point lead, coach Bethany Irwin knew there were a number of scenarios for the Lady Mountain Lions.
“You knew they were going to penetrate. They didn’t need a three,” the coach said. “You knew they were going to attack the hoop. … We tried to contain, and we got tangled up with one of our other players. (Whitfield) got around her and it went in.”
Whitfield had burned State College with five 3-pointers and 25 points when the teams met two-and-a-half weeks ago, and Altoona made nine of them as a team that night.
This time, the Lady Mountain Lions made just 3 of 15 attempts from long range, and only one from Whitfield. Overall, they made 14 of 52 field goal attempts, a mere 27 percent.
But Altoona also was hitting the boards hard, with a 42-31 rebounding advantage, including grabbing 18 on the offensive end.
That helped the team rally from a 23-15 halftime deficit after making just 20 percent of its shots before the break.
“We told them not to quit. That second half, they’d start to fall,” Altoona coach Miriam Colledge said. “We got one or two and it would feed off that. That just helped us in the end.”
State College made just 30 percent of its shots after halftime and 35 percent for the game (17 for 49).
It marked the end the careers for the team’s five seniors: Shelton-Burleigh, Treglia, Hurley, Brenna Adams and Lily Kile.
It also left Kyla Irwin, who scored 461 points this season, has 1,397 for her career and is committed to top-ranked Connecticut, hungry for her final season in maroon and white.
“I don’t want the season to end,” said the junior. “If it just continues, I always want to beat Altoona. I want to get them next time.”