High School Sports

Lady Little Lions rolling into new year

nmark@centredaily.com

The State College girls’ basketball team made this one look surprisingly easy.

And got to celebrate a major milestone in the process.

Behind another huge night for Kyla Irwin, the Lady Little Lions closed 2015 with a decisive 60-28 victory over North Schuylkill in the championship game of the Kiwanis Holiday Classic on Wednesday.

Irwin scored 28 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors, in helping her team run its record to 8-1. In the process, she also grabbed her 1,000th career rebound, becoming the first player, to coach Bethany Irwin’s knowledge, to reach that mark.

“To grab 1,000 rebounds, that’s a huge accomplishment for anybody that’s capable of doing that,” Bethany Irwin said. “That just goes with her work ethic and hard work on and off the court.”

The senior forward, who now has 1,004 boards, reached the milestone with a defensive grab with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter.

Needing eight boards for the mark entering the game, she had no idea how close she was, and she was one short as the Trojans were on a mini scoring run and the Lady Little Lions had a spate of turnovers.

“My mom pulled me aside and she said, ‘You need to get this last one,’ ” Kyla Irwin said. “I didn’t realize how close I was.”

She already surpassed the previous program-best mark, to the best of Bethany Irwin’s knowledge, of 939 set by 2008 graduate Emily Suhey.

I’m proud to get 1,000 rebounds. Attacking the boards, being there offensively, defensively — all aspects of the game.”

Kyla Irwin

“I’m proud to get 1,000 rebounds,” Irwin said. “Attacking the boards, being there offensively, defensively — all aspects of the game.”

Irwin has another, bigger milestone on the very near horizon. The 6-foot-2 Connecticut-bound senior also has 1,615 points, leaving her 15 shy of the program record of 2002 graduate Katie Glusko.

It looked like that mark might also be reached Wednesday. She scored 10 points in the first quarter and had 18 by halftime as the team blasted ahead to a 23-5 lead seconds into the second quarter.

“When we go out and we are on fire, we get excited and get after things, we’re just unstoppable,” Kyla Irwin said. “It’s hard to break down our momentum. Once we get there, it’s hard to stop us.”

The highlight play in that outburst was a 2-on-1 break with Irwin and Kayla Hawbaker. Irwin made an around-the-back dish to the junior point guard, who took one dribble deep under the basket and fed the ball back to Irwin for an easy layup.

A major factor, both in that early spurt and throughout the game, was the team’s defense. State College forced 20 Spartans turnovers, with 13 off steals. Hawbaker alone accounted for six swipes.

“Anticipation is really good,” said guard Casey Witter, who had two steals. “Abby (Allen) down in the corner, she’s really awesome at getting those steals. And Kayla Hawbaker and I are up top, we just work together and we were frustrating the girls bring the ball up.”

Hawbaker also netted 10 points, and Allen added nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Witter said. “We’ve been playing really good as a team, and these two games have been huge for us.”

Averi Jordan’s 16 points paced North Schuylkill, which was playing shorthanded. The Lady Spartans were missing guard Tiffany Lapotsky, a third-team All-State selection last season who scored 25 points Tuesday in a win over Burrell, due to illness.

“That’s kind of hard to replace somebody that scored 25 points,” Irwin said. “We were trying to prepare ourselves as much as we could for them. They came out and worked hard, but I think we kind of got a late Christmas gift with that. I felt bad. I would have liked to have played against that girl.”

The Lady Little Lions get a small break before returning to Mid Penn Conference play with a challenge against Harrisburg. The team initially was going to get four days of rest this weekend, but after a four-day break last week and, by Bethany Irwin’s standards, some sluggish play the last two days, the break as been cut in half.

“Then mentality and toughness wasn’t there,” Irwin said. ‘So we’re taking two days now and we’ll have three of four days to prepare for Harrisburg. That’s a huge game. Harrisburg is playing extremely well.”

With State College, Cumberland Valley and Central Dauphin East tied atop the Commonwealth Division, and Harrisburg a game behind, it brings a key battle as the new year begins.

“It’s a really big game,” Kyla Irwin said. “They’re going to be tough and we’ve got to go hard in practice and not stop. We have to be relentless about rebounding and get the job done.”

Allen joined Irwin on the All-Tournament team, as did Jordan, Northampton’s Aja Blount and Burrell’s Natalie Myers.

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @gordoncdt

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