High School Sports

Lady Little Lions roll into tournament final

State College’s Kayla Hawbaker (1) dribbles around Northampton’s Sophia Eckroth (43) during the Kiwanis Holiday Basketball Classic on December 29, 2015.
State College’s Kayla Hawbaker (1) dribbles around Northampton’s Sophia Eckroth (43) during the Kiwanis Holiday Basketball Classic on December 29, 2015. knetzer@centredaily.com

It’s easy to pick out who the most important player is for success for the State College girls’ basketball team.

But the Lady Little Lions have a much better chance to win when a lot more people are involved.

Thanks to a lot of balance early, and three girls in double figures, State College pulled away from Northampton 61-38 Tuesday night in the opening game of the Kiwanis Holiday Classic.

The Lady Little Lions (7-1) scored 21 of the game’s final 27 points over the last nine minutes to advance to their tournament championship game.

“The second half we had a lot more fun,” said Kyla Irwin, who led everyone with 26 points and 14 rebounds. “We pushed the ball and saw people that were open.”

State College will meet North Schuylkill, a 58-46 winner over Burrell in the day’s first girls’ contest, at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Irwin, a Connecticut recruit averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds a game this season, had a fairly typical night, adding three steals, two blocks and two assists.

But the addition of 12 points and eight rebounds from Jess Orndorff and 11 points from Kayla Hawbaker opened up the court.

“Awesome for them,” coach Bethany Irwin said. “Jessie’s got to keep doing what she’s doing. I know Kyla takes the brunt of it, but if Jessie keeps hitting they’ve got to come out and that relieves Kyla a little bit.”

It also helped the Lady Little Lions were bombing 3-pointers. Five different girls contributed to the six made 3s, which also spread the Konkrete Kids’ defense.

“That helped a lot,” Kyla Irwin said. “Having an inside and outside game is a big key to basketball. It’s a big threat to a lot of teams. Everyone stepped up.”

“When the other girls start knocking down shots, what the heck? You can’t win,” Northampton coach Jeff Jacksits said. “When they did miss a few, we were slacking on the weak-side rebounding, and they were able to get those offensive rebounds from us.”

State College also got plenty of rebounding help for Irwin. The Lady Little Lions outrebounded the Konkrete Kids 53-34, with Abby Allen grabbing nine boards and Casey Witter adding eight.

The game also saw a good battle in the paint between the 6-foot-2 Irwin and Aja Blount, who is a very strong 5-10. Blount led the Konkrete Kids (6-2) with 15 points and close to 20 rebounds, swiping about four rebounds out of the hands of State College players with pure strength.

“Definitely something I’m used to,” Kyla Irwin said. “I didn’t have to match up with her, just keep her in one spot, but she is a big body and its hard to move around her.”

The Lady Little Lions shot to a quick 9-0 lead in the game’s first 2:21, including a pair of jumpers in the lane by Orndorff. From there the teams traded runs until State College pulled away over the final nine minutes. Irwin was 7 for 7 from the foul line, while the rest of the scoring was again spread out, and Northampton was forced into 2 for 11 shooting from the field in the fourth to go with six turnovers in the frame.

“We made her work hard,” Jacksits said of the senior post player. “We held her where we wanted her. It was the other girl that hurt us. Orndorff hitting those shots early from the foul line area — where we weren’t supposed to let that happen, of course — but they knocked everything down.”

Tiffany Lapotsky’s 25 points, including 14 of 18 from the foul line, and Averi Jordan’s 12 points paced North Schuylkill in the opener. Natalie Myers netted 27 to pace Burrell and Eliza Oswalt added a dozen points.