PITTSBURGH - Altoona had difficulty generating offense in the first half of Saturday's game at Oakland Catholic's Donahue Pavilion.
The Lady Lions didn't have much luck in the final two quarters, either.
The Lady Eagles built a 20-point halftime lead and held on in a physical second half for a 50-33 non-conference victory.
It was the second-straight trip to the Pittsburgh area in three days for Altoona (13-2) to battle top Class AAAA teams. The Lady Lions, ranked seventh in the state, dropped a 62-55 decision at fourth-ranked Mount Lebanon on Thursday. Oakland Catholic (15-0) is ranked second.
"That's why you play the best, so you can learn," Altoona coach Jill Helsel said. "We don't want to meet them for the first time in the playoffs. We have taken a ton of stuff that we need to work on, so I think that is the most-valuable thing we can get from these two games."
Altoona had a strong battle with Mount Lebanon. However, the Lady Lions weren't so fortunate against the Lady Eagles. After Kayla Grimme's hoop gave Altoona a 2-0 lead to start, Oakland Catholic stormed back for a 9-0 run and closed the quarter with a 14-7 edge.
The Lady Eagles, who beat Altoona, 62-49, in a PIAA first-round playoff game last year, turned up their defensive intensity in the second quarter. They increased a 19-9 lead into a 28-10 advantage with 3:21 remaining in the half.
"We have been focusing on defense all year and really believing in our defense and letting our defense create our offense," Oakland Catholic coach Shannon Boyle said. "We focus on all defensive principles and we try to play like we're 20 points down all the time, as far as our defense goes. We try to stay focused on that no matter what the score is. They're learning to finish, finally, on offense."
The Lady Lions didn't help themselves, either, as unforced errors, combined with a swarming Oakland Catholic defense spelled doom all evening.
"Everything was bad. Credit Oakland Catholic's defense. They are in your face; they are nonstop and they chase you down and you don't have a break. But, we couldn't pass the ball. We couldn't inbound the ball in the first half. Our post players couldn't finish. We basically did nothing right," Helsel said. "Oakland Catholic is a very good team. We did not compose ourselves. We took ourselves out of the game. There were situations where we could have made a run, but our girls just weren't here tonight."
The Lady Eagles didn't light up the scoreboard, either. In the third quarter, they went with a selective offensive approach, which helped chew large chunks of time off the scoreboard. They carried a 38-18 lead into the fourth.
"We weren't necessarily looking to stall the ball, but we just talked at halftime about making smart decisions and being able to execute an offense without forcing anything that really wasn't necessary," Boyle said.
Oakland Catholic's lead peaked at 22 points in the second half and it settled for the 17-point triumph.
Bobbi Baker led the Lady Eagles with 21 points. Mara Fitzgerald added 12.
Darby Lee tallied a team-high 11 points for Altoona.
"I would hope they'd learn from this and move on," Helsel said. "We'll be back in the gym Monday and we'll fix what's broken."
ALTOONA (33): Reffner 1 1-2 3, Hippo 1 1-2 3, DeCriscio 1 0-0 3, Lee 5 1-5 11, Grimme 1 2-4 4, Servello 1 2-4 4, Chesney 0 1-2 1, Hatch 0 2-4 2, Palfey 1 0-0 2. Totals 11 10-23 33.
OAKLAND CATHOLIC (50):Mrdjenovich 2 2-2 7, Taglianetti 1 0-2 2, Baker 6 8-14 21, Berenato 1 0-0 2, Vigliotti 1 1-2 3, Fitzgerald 2 6-8 12, Johnson 1 0-0 2, Whalen 0 1-2 1. Totals 14 18-30 50
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Altoona7 5 6 15 33
Oakland Cath.14 18 6 12 - 50
3-point goals: Altoona 1 (DeCriscio); Oakland Catholic 4 (Fitzgerald 2, Baker, Mrdjenovich).
Records: Oakland Catholic (15-0); Altoona (13-2).
Officials: Steve Lund, Mark Farabee, Art Monteleone.
JV: Oakland Catholic, 33-32. High scorers-Lauren Donley, A, 10