HOLLIDAYSBURG - The second the whistle blew, Darby Lee pumped her fist and Altoona's bench broke out into a celebration.
The Lady Lion sophomore still had to step to the line and make a free throw where Altoona has had its problems this season. However, Lee's confidence never swayed as she calmly nailed both shots after being fouled with 10.6 seconds remaining to give Altoona a 56-54 victory over Hollidaysburg at the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School Tuesday.
"Of course I was nervous with the game on the line," Lee said. "But we shoot so many free throws at practice, that I was pretty confident."
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Altoona’s Darby Lee puts up a shot in front of several Hollidaysburg defenders in the paint.
Altoona coach Jill Helsel may have been even more nervous.
"You have to give it up for Darby," Helsel said. "These kids have taken a bad rap on their foul shots. With the game on the line, she was clutch and put them in like she should have. I'm real proud of her, and I'm real proud of everyone."
Hollidaysburg led for the majority of the game and by as many as nine when Hannah Mercer made a driving layup with 43 seconds to play in the third quarter. Altoona began its comeback when Lauren Hippo made a jump shot with 26 seconds left to play in the third, and Kayla Grimme ended the quarter with a layup at the buzzer.
Altoona pulled within one with 5:01 to play when Alexia Servello made a jump shot, but Susie Ellis connected on a 3-pointer to extend the lead back to four. Less than a minute later, Hippo came through again with a pair of baskets before Grimme's layup with 1:36 left finally tied the game.
"I thought we did a good job through three and a half quarters defending their post players," Hollidaysburg coach Deanna Jubeck said. "Lauren Hippo got hot in the fourth quarter, and she made some shots. That was probably the key to Altoona's victory, her getting hot."
Grimme also came through with a monster game for the Lady Lions. The junior forward scored 21 points and had 13 rebounds. Sixteen of her points came in the second half after Helsel gave a halftime speech stressing boxing out. Lee finished with 16 points.
"We told them if they don't box out in this game, they weren't going to win," Helsel said. "Credit Hollidaysburg, they were doing a great job rebounding. In the second half, though, we started boxing out and got some easy baskets."
Though the rivals won't meet in the playoffs, Altoona (15-3) will participate in the Class AAAA field and Hollidaysburg (10-6) the Class AAA, the game lived up to the rivalry the teams have built over the years. Following Lee's free throws and Hollidaysburg's turnover on its final possession, the Lady Lions mobbed each other on the court.
"This feels great, especially after losing three games," Lee said. "To come back on our rivals and win a game like this feels amazing."
On the Hollidaysburg side, where Ellis (14), Alex Gildea (13), Rachel McClain (13) and Mercer (10) all scored in double digits, there was plenty of dejection. After nearly 20 minutes in the locker room after the game, nearly every Lady Tiger was in tears.
Jubeck tried to stress the importance of moving on.
"We talked about heart, guts and being mentally strong from here," Jubeck said. "At the end of the season, everyone becomes 0-0. The win-loss record doesn't matter. Right now you play to improve your team, and you work on getting refocused on playing District 6 Class AAA playoff basketball."
ALTOONA (56): Servello 2 0-0 4, Reffner 1 0-0 2, DeCriscio 1 0-0 3, Lee 7 2-2 16, Grimme 9 3-4 21, Hippo 4 0-0 10, Hatch 0 0-0 0. Totals - 24 5-6 56.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (54): Storm 0 0-0 0, Ellis 4 4-4 14, Gildea 3 6-10 13, Mercer 5 0-0 10, Griffith 2 0-0 4, Muir 0 0-0 0, McClain 5 0-0 13. Totals - 19 10-14 54.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Altoona13 10 16 17 - 56
Hollidaysburg14 14 16 10 - 54
3-point goals: Altoona 3 (Hippo 2, DeCriscio); Hollidaysburg 6 (McClain 3, Gildea, Ellis 2).
Records: Altoona (15-3); Hollidaysburg (10-6).
JV: Hollidaysburg, 42-34. High scorers-Kiersten Davis, H, 11; Leah Chesney/Emily Iuzzolino, A, 10 each.