HOLLIDAYSBURG - Claudia McDowell joined the Mitch Grace Construction roster for the Hollidaysburg YMCA Women's Summer Basketball League, and its turned out to be a great fit for the Huntingdon County combo guard.
After several close calls with nothing to show for it, McDowell was able to get her first league title with Grace in 2012. She returned the favor on Sunday night.
McDowell put her team on her back in the closing minutes as Grace Construction upset previously undefeated Kitchen Sales, 49-46, to repeat as Alumni Division champions at the Reliance Bank Gymnasium.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Mitch Grace’s Claudia McDowell drives around Kitchen Sales’ Kristi Kaack.
"It feels good, because they're a very good team, and we had a lot of trouble with them earlier in the summer. We knew it was going to be tough to match up with them," Grace Construction forward Sam Downey, who tied McDowell for team high with 12 points as she won her fourth title with the team, said of Kitchen Sales. "Claudia's added a lot of experience, a good ballhandler, and she's a very smart player. She just knows where to put the ball and when to put the ball."
McDowell's timing was impeccable in the division final. Grace's nine-point lead in the second half had evaporated under the hot glare of Kitchen Sales' fiery pressure, and the defending champs were staring at a six-point deficit with less than 4 minutes to play.
McDowell then scored six straight points, making two free throws, a pull-up jumper and a nifty bankshot to knot things up. After Downey's tough baseline hook put Grace in the lead 46-45, McDowell went to the line again, where she converted two more foul shots.
"Definitely, a lot of it is adrenaline. I think I was just being more aggressive, looking to attack the hoop a little bit more," said McDowell, who scored two points in last year's championship game.
Kitchen Sales' Kristi Kaack led all scorers with 17 points, although she struggled to make her outside shot most of the game. Kaack fired up a 3-pointer from beyond 25 feet in the final 5 seconds which bounced off the backboard and almost went in to force overtime before rimming out.
"I think we knew it was going to be a good game. Mitch Grace has been in this league for a long time. We just didn't make shots tonight. We did all year, and tonight we just didn't," Kaack said.
Grace Construction's main goal was to keep out of a running game with Kitchen Sales after losing their regular-season encounter by 15. It accomplished its task to slow down the game with a matchup zone, sending the top seeds to the line instead of giving up uncontested shots and being patient on offense.
"It's funny. All summer, we were able to run on a lot of teams," McDowell said. "But these guys are in shape, too, so we couldn't really run against them. So we just decided to try to control the tempo."
Grace got 11 quick points and three 3-pointers from Elaina Hummel to surge ahead by five at the half. Buckets by Britni Greenleaf and Downey to start the second half made it 32-23 Grace before Kitchen Sales went on a 13-2 run in the middle of the second half.
"She's always our spark," Downey said of Hummel. "She plays so hard. She wants to win, and she'll do anything that she can."
Kitchen Sales won the league in 2011 as SCMI and appeared a big favorite to regain the crown heading into the contest.
"For me, it will always be [disappointing], because I'm a competitor," Kaack said. "But, now I'm other things, like a mom, and it puts things in perspective. I still love basketball, but it's just not my first love anymore."
GRACE CONSTRUCTION (49): Hummel 4 0-0 11, McCune 1 1-2 4, Watkins 0 0-0 0, Greenleaf 2 0-0 4, Downey 4 4-4 12, B. Sedlock 3 0-0 6, McDowell 2 8-8 12, Petrarca 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, K. Sedlock 0 0-0 0. Totals - 16 13-14 49.
KITCHEN SALES (46): Kaack 7 2-3 17, Leach 0 1-2 1, Hippo 3 1-2 8, Moyer 2 3-4 9, Thomas 2 2-2 6, Matter 0 3-4 3, Sh. Reimer 0 2-2 2, Conrad 0 0-0 0. Totals - 14 14-19 46.
Halftime: Grace Construction, 28-23. 3-point goals: Grace Construction 4 (Hummel 3, McCune); Kitchen Sales 4 (Hippo, Moyer 2, Kaack).
Officials: Sue Kovensky, Bill Pfeffer, Keith Redfoot.