It's always emotionally charged when Altoona and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic square off in high school girls basketball.
For Courtney Becker, though, the feelings entering the annual crosstown encounter were an even bigger rollercoaster. Becker was a reserve forward for Altoona the past two years, but she took the Altoona Area Fieldhouse floor on Tuesday night as a member of a starting lineup wearing BG purple and gold.
"I was nervous because I care a lot about the game and, especially, my other teammates, and I was anxious because it was my last time on this court,'' Becker said, "I just wanted to go out and play hard and get a victory.''
The prolonged hug she received from Guilfoyle coach Mark Moschella after the final horn stood as testament that Becker had accomplished her goal.
Becker keyed the Lady Marauders' impressive defensive effort with 11 rebounds and four steals, as Guilfoyle shut out Altoona in the first quarter and held it to one point in the third in posting its sixth consecutive victory over the Lady Lions, 38-23, before nearly a full house.
"I'm proud of my team. We came to play. We were ready,'' said a glowing Becker, who scored all four of her points in the first four minutes to ignite an 11-0 Lady Marauder run to open the game.
Guilfoyle never was challenged after the first quarter and headed into the final period with a 31-9 lead. Although Altoona's length inside managed to hold Lady Marauder all-stater Halee Adams to 4-of-18 shooting, the 5-foot-8 junior swing player still managed to almost match the Lady Lions with 15 points before she came out midway through the fourth quarter. Kayla Bates netted nine points and Elyssa Ehredt eight as Guilfoyle improved to 19-2.
"I think that's probably our best defensive performance of the year,'' Moschella said. "When you come into an environment like this and you're not strong together on the floor, you're not going to accomplish too much. I really credit our kids for their chemistry.
"I think that our kids have to realize if we can stay together and we can play this kind of basketball, [we can go far]. I don't know how many teams out there are as good as Altoona - Altoona's a benchmark.''
It was only Altoona's fourth loss in 21 starts, and it wasn't pretty. The Lady Lions missed their first 15 shots from the field. They didn't get on the board until Kayla Grimme made a pair of free throws 37 seconds into the second quarter.
Altoona was holding its "Think Pink'' night to raise money for the fight against breast cancer. The Lady Lions started the game in all pink uniforms but came out in the second half in their regular home whites to try to bring them out of their funk.
It didn't help. After Kaycie Reffner made a free throw at the 7:06 mark of the third quarter, Altoona went almost nine minutes without scoring again.
"When you're held to nine points entering the fourth quarter, you have to credit the defense. You have to,'' Altoona coach Jill Helsel said. "We didn't look to score like we normally do. They fronted the post, and we held the ball outside the perimeter. We were not aggressive.''
Altoona's previous scoring low this season was 33 points at Oakland Catholic, Grimme led the way for Altoona with eight points to go along with 13 rebounds and eight blocked shots. The Lady Lions still are likely to be the No. 1 seed when the District 6 Class AAAA playoff pairings come out next week, although this win would have helped Altoona in its tussle with Mifflin County for the top spot.
"At this point in the season, you have to shake off losses, and you have to learn from them. It won't happen again,'' Helsel said.
Altoona did miss several wide-open layups, but that was after Guilfoyle, with its bigger guards and tough man-to-man, had already established it was going to make the Lady Lions work for anything they could get.
"We knew defense was the key to this game. They're bigger than us [inside] and we had to box out. We couldn't foul either,'' Bates said. "We felt confident, but we knew it wasn't going to be easy.''
Moschella said Becker was a big part of the Lady Marauders' defensive success.
"She gave away a lot of inches tonight. I credit her on how hard she worked off the ball to reposition herself and get where she needed to be to slow down a powerful Altoona inside game,'' Moschella said.
Becker also needed to overcome the jeers of her former school's student section. A chant of "Traitor'' went up once when she was shooting free throws, and another time when she was handling the ball out front.
"It didn't bother me,'' Becker, who left the Altoona team halfway through her junior season and then transferred to Guilfoyle, said. "I knew it was coming.''
Becker had lost to Guilfoyle as a sophomore at Altoona. She was ecstatic to be on the other end of things.
"I'm so happy. I'm just so proud of my team,'' Becker said. "We have a great group of girls and an awesome coaching staff.''
Game notes: Guilfoyle travels to Penn Cambria tonight for its final Laurel Highlands Conference game of the season. ... Altoona hosts Williamsport on Thursday night. ... Three Lady Lions scored in double figures, led by Lauren Donley's 15 points, as it trimmed BG, 46-43, in the junior varsity game. ... Officiating mainstay Darrell Jones reffed possibly his final game at the Fieldhouse. Jones is retiring after this season.
BISHOP GUILFOYLE (38): Bates 4 1-6 9, Stessney 0 0-0 0, H. Adams 4 6-9 15, Ehredt 2 4-5 8, Becker 2 0-1 4, Meck 0 0-0 0, Boslet 1 0-0 2. Totals - 13 11-21 38.
ALTOONA (23): Servello 0 0-0 0, Reffner 1 1-2 5, DeCriscio 1 1-1 3, Hippo 0 0-0 0, Grimme 3 2-6 8, Hatch 0 0-0 0, Lee 1 0-0 2, Donley 1 0-0 3, Chesney 1 0-0 3, Palfey 0 0-0 0. Totals - 8 4-9 23.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bishop Guilfoyle11 10 9 8 - 38
Altoona0 8 1 14 - 23
3-point goals: Bishop Guilfoyle 1 (H. Adams); Altoona 3 (Reffner, Donley, Chesney).
Records: Bishop Guilfoyle (19-2); Altoona (17-4).
Officials: Ray Wotkowski, Darrell Jones, Bill Correll
JV: Altoona, 46-43. High scorers-Emily Adams, BG, 13; Lauren Donley, A, 15.