State College girls’ basketball coach Bethany Irwin wanted to see her team come out and show some fight.
The Lady Little Lions were playing Cumberland Valley, the two-time defending state champion. The Eagles have gone to three straight state title games and boast a more talented team than State College.
So Irwin was more concerned with her players’ effort than the final result after the Lady Little Lions fell 50-34 on Tuesday night.
“I didn’t really see that,” Irwin said of the fight from her players. “Some of them are going to have to really reevaluate what they did today because we played four really great games ahead of that, and all of the sudden we just didn’t come out here and take advantage of this opportunity.”
Cumberland Valley raced out to an 18-5 lead after the first quarter, took a 31-8 lead into halftime and led by as many as 32 points in the third quarter. Cumberland Valley’s Kelly Jekot scored 20 points before exiting late in the third due to a “Charley horse,” according to Eagles coach Bill Wolf. Katie Jekot and Addi Kirkpatrick finished with 11 points and 10 points, respectively, for Cumberland Valley.
The Eagles knocked down 3-pointers on their first two possessions and took their first double-digit lead when Kelly Jekot hit a bank shot to make it 14-3 late in the first quarter.
Cumberland Valley pushed the tempo and executed in transition while making it hard for State College to get set offensively en route to building the insurmountable lead.
Wolf said the Eagles’ game plan revolved around stopping State College’s Kyla Irwin.
“Then what we also did was put a lot of ball pressure on the guards, making it very difficult to get into an offense,” Wolf said. “So between them having trouble getting into an offense and trying to keep the ball away from Kyla and then when she got it, give as much help as possible, it kind of was real hard for them in that first half.”
Irwin scored seven of the team’s eight points and accounted for all three of the Lady Little Lions’ field goals in the first half as the Eagles held a 23-point lead.
“We just came out really, really flat,” Bethany Irwin said. “They didn’t take advantage of the thought process of getting to play against the No. 1 team in the state and just go out and have fun with that.”
But State College couldn’t keep pace with Cumberland Valley.
Kelly Jekot scored 15 points in the first half and finished with four 3-pointers in the game. Her passing ability was also on display as she set up her teammates throughout the first three quarters.
Jekot, a Villanova commit, was named Miss PA Basketball and earned the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year honors, among other awards, last season.
“She’s one of the best shooters that I’ve ever had the privilege of watching,” Irwin said. “… She’s going to Villanova, and we’ve seen her for four years, so I’m happy that she’s finally graduating and I’m sure they’re happy that Kyla’s going to be graduating.”
Kyla Irwin, a UConn commit, scored 22 of her game-high 29 points in the second half.
But the flat start doomed the Lady Little Lions.