HOLLIDAYSBURG - It's only January, but it looks like the District 6 Class AAAA girls basketball tournament should be a dandy.
Although Hollidaysburg has stamped itself as the early favorite, anyone of four teams could be in the hunt for the district's only representative in the PIAA's statewide big school tourney.
Hollidaysburg stayed unbeaten Saturday by turning back State College, 53-45, in an afternoon tussle at the HAHS gym.
"State College. Altoona. Mifflin County. District 6 is very strong this year," Lady Tiger coach Deanna Jubeck said following her team's ninth straight win. "Between the four of us, all of the games that are going to be played are going to be close games like this."
It certainly looks that way.
Hollidaysburg (9-0), which beat Altoona, 57-56, in December, visits Mifflin County (7-3) on Monday. State College, now 9-2, hosts Altoona on Wednesday. Altoona fell to 5-4 with a 68-64 loss to Central Dauphin East on Saturday, and has lost all four games by seven points or less. CD East also beat State College earlier.
Much like its win over Altoona, Hollidaysburg jumped on State College early, and then survived the Lady Little Lions' fourth-quarter run.
Courteney Storm got the Lady Tigers rolling, scoring 11 points [3 treys] as the hosts opened an 18-10 lead in the first quarter. Storm also hit a big 3 midway through the fourth quarter and finished with a team-high 19 points.
"Courteney Storm had a great week of practice for us," Jubeck said. "Her shot was falling, and I think she was feeling comfortable. She continued to shoot the ball well, and that little spark was what we needed from her."
"I'm mostly a post player," Storm said when asked about her 3-point shooting. "but, if it's [3-point shot] open, I take it, and hope they go in."
Storm said the Tigers respected SC.
"We were going out there like they were better than us," Storm said. "That made us play harder, and we were expecting a close game."
Freshman Kyla Irwin, the daughter of SC coach Bethany Irwin, scored 12 of her game-high 20 points on the low block in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late for the Lions.
Hannah Mercer converted 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch, and Lexi Servello added a pair to seal it for Hollidaysburg.
"We shot more free throws this week than we have all season," Jubeck said. "We've been struggling from the free throw line and we made it one of our priorities.
"If games are close down the stretch, it's going to come down to layups and free throws," Jubeck noted, "so we had to make sure we knocked them down. I think we shot 73 percent."
The Tigers actually made 17-of-23 from the stripe, and that was the difference - plus a 6-to-1 spread in 3-point shooting - as SC made two more [17-to-15] field goals.
"We knew we were going to have our hands full," said SC coach Bethany Irwin, noting the Little Lions played without starting point guard Carrie Mahon.
"This game is a great opportunity for us to learn what [Tigers] do," Irwin said, "because we're going to see them in districts.
"We had our chances, but we didn't shoot well the first half," she said. "In the second half, we played man-to-man, which we rarely do, and the girls responded well.
"We were trying to cut down their 3s - number 11 [Storm] had a nice game - and we wanted to put their lowest-percentage foul shooters on the line at the end, but they made them," Irwin added, "and our shots didn't fall for us tonight."
Irwin said every game builds toward the district playoffs.
"Our schedule, the Central Penn League and games with Altoona and Hollidaysburg, demands you to get better, and we'll use this as a learning experience so we're better later."
STATE COLLEGE (45): Stevenson 1 0-0 2, Altomare 3 4-8 10, Irwin 8 4-4 20, King 4 0-0 8, Allison 1 2-2 5, Treglia 0 0-0 0, Karstetter 0 0-0 0, Kaluza 0 0-0 0. Totals - 17 10-14 45.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (53): Griffith 4 4-5 12, Storm 6 3-3 19, Servello 0 3-5 3, Ellis 5 0-0 12, Mercer 0 7-10 7, Muir 0 0-0 0, Jennings 0 0-0 0. Totals - 15 17-23 53.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
State College10 10 8 17 - 45
Hollidaysburg18 13 9 13 - 53
3-point goals: State College 1 (Allison); Hollidaysburg 6 (Storm 4, Ellis 2).
Officials: Gary Zimmerman, Dick Wagner, Ted Beam.
Records: State College (9-2); Hollidaysburg (9-0).
JV: Hollidaysburg, 39-35. High scorer-Kiki Davis, H, 14.