With each passing game, the Altoona Lady Lions confidence continues to grow.
Coming off a school record 40-point game, Darby Lee turned in another big game with 23 points to lead the Lady Lions past Abington, 66-45, Thursday in the first round of the 2012 Altoona Area Holiday Basketball Tournament at the AAHS Fieldhouse.
"Coach [Jill] Helsel and coach [Jill] Lane worked us hard this summer on all of our skills," Lee said. "We worked on my agility and speed. I'm definitely more comfortable driving to the basket than I was last year."
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Altoona’s Darby Lee shoots over Abington’s Michael Harris.
The junior forward also improved her foul shooting, making 49-of-56 of her free throws on the season. Through six games, she's averaging 24.8 points per contest.
"We shoot a crazy number of free throws in practice," Lee said. "My confidence is higher. Actually, the confidence of every single girl on the team has improved. The coaches constantly pound into our heads that if we believe we can do it, we will."
The 3-3 Lady Lions play in the tournament championship tonight at 7:30 against Gateway, which knocked off Pine-Richland Thursday in the other half of the girls bracket, 40-31. Chelsea Richardson led Gateway with a game-high 13 points.
Pine-Richland and Abington play in the girls consolation game at 4 p.m.
Altoona turned in a big third quarter to blow open what had been a close game. Leading 27-24 at halftime, the Lady Lions outscored the team from suburban Philadelphia 23-10 in the third quarter.
Lee started the decisive run with the first five points of the quarter on a pair of free throws and 3-point play in which she split a pair of defenders, put in the layup and converted the ensuing free throw.
At that point, Abington went to a full court press to no avail. Kaycie Reffner dribbled through the press and found Lauren Donley wide open on the right wing for a 3-pointer. Moments later, Natalie Knab drained a 3-pointer from the left wing on a nearly identical play to put the Lady Lions up by double digits.
"We did a good job of executing our press break, hit a couple 3s and forced them to call timeout," Helsel said.
Kayla Grimme finished off the quarter with a pair of a putbacks that gave Altoona a 50-34 lead. Grimme nearly had a double-double off the bench with 12 points and nine rebounds.
Donley finished with 12 points as well, all coming on 3-pointers. The junior guard sparked Altoona's offense earlier in the game with a pair of treys on back-to-back possessions late in the first quarter. Her final one came early in the fourth quarter to put Altoona up 17 points.
"That's my role on the team," Donley said. "I just have to make sure I spot up and knock it down when I get the chance."
Deja Rawls led Abington with 15 points, and Michael Harris added 12.
"We're a really young team, but we're talented when we play together," Abington coach Daniel Marsh said. "We ran into some adversity and a really good player in number 32 [Lee]. Instead of facing it as a team, we faced it as individuals. A good team like Altoona is going to expose that."
Rachel Dibert grabbed eight rebounds, Lee had seven and Reffner and Shania Feathers added five apiece to help Altoona outrebound the Lady Ghosts 39-25.
"We're pretty deep. All the girls have a role. We don't ask them to do anything they can't do, just play to the best of their ability," Helsel said.
ABINGTON (45): G. Nolan 0 0-0 0, Lochner 1 2-2 4, Simmons 2 4-4 8, Rawls 4 7-9 15, Harris 5 2-4 12, Vitelli 0 0-0 0, Bermel 0 2-2 2, Poole 0 0-0 0, Deal 0 0-2 0, Hughes 1 0-0 2, Lee 0 0-0 0, Brusha 0 2-4 2, K. Nolan 0 0-0 0, Edmonds 0 0-0 0, Helm 0 0-0 0. Totals - 13 19-27 45.
ALTOONA (66): Hatch 1 0-1 2, Reffner 1 3-4 5, Donley 4 0-0 12, Lee 7 9-9 23, Feathers 0 0-0 0, Knab 1 0-0 3, Grimme 5 2-3 12, Davis 1 2-3 4, Dibert 1 1-2 3, Menegay 0 0-0 0, Caracciolo 0 0-0 0, Muffie 1 0-0 2, Mayhue 0 0-0 0, Campbell 0 0-0 0. Totals - 22 17-22 66.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Abington11 13 10 11 - 45
Altoona12 15 23 16 - 66
3-point goals: Altoona 5 (Donley 4, Knab).
Records: Abington (5-3); Altoona (3-3).