Altoona girls upset No. 1 Lady Tigers
WINGATE – Saturday was Ragnarok, the end of the world according to the Viking calendar.
The world didn’t end, though. Neither did the season for the Altoona Area High School girls basketball team, the Lady Lions’ quest for a third District 6 Class AAAA championship in four years or the career of standout forward Darby Lee.
Lee amassed 22 points and 14 rebounds, and Sarah Donley gave her plenty of support from the outside by hitting four of her team’s six 3-pointers for 14 points while the Lady Lion defense performed exceptionally for 28 minutes as Altoona, the fourth seed, ousted top-seeded and defending champion Hollidaysburg, 54-47, at Bald Eagle Area High School.
The Lady Lions will play for their 24th district championship on Thursday at St. Francis University’s DeGol Arena against State College.
“Knowing we lose this game, we’re out. I’m done forever,” Lee said of the inspiration on Saturday. “Winning in the playoffs, this was the game that mattered. Just to get this win, it’s awesome.”
Altoona’s timing couldn’t have been better. The Lady Lions had dropped five in a row to the Lady Tigers, including last year’s 6-AAAA championship game and two close games this season.
It’s been a rollercoaster campaign for Altoona in general – the Lady Lions still need to win in the finals just to even their record at 11-11.
Afterward, the emotions spilled out. The bench and the Lady Lion fans erupted at the final buzzer. Before addressing her team, Altoona coach Jill Helsel called senior point guard and defensive linchpin McKenzie Hatch out of the locker room to gleefully congratulate her.
“It feels so good. It feels so good,” said Hatch, who finished with nine points. “Coach Helsel’s been telling us all week that we could beat them, and we’re just as good as they are. Coach Helsel’s been giving us so much confidence.”
Hollidaysburg was going for a fourth consecutive district trophy, having won in Class AAA in 2011 and 2012. However, the Lady Tigers committed 10 turnovers in the first nine minutes to fall behind by seven points.
“I don’t think we had as much energy as the last times [we played them]. We were physically there. Mentally, not so much,” said Hollidaysburg senior forward Morgan Jennings, who scored a team-high 18 points, including eight in the fourth quarter. “Maybe we were a little nervous with the situation.”
The Lady Tigers’ problems were compounded a couple of minutes into the second quarter when Courteney Storm, their top scorer and a Shippensburg recruit, went to the bench with three fouls, and soon was joined by Jennings and fellow forward Alex Scheel with two each. Lee went 10-for-11 at the foul line in the first half, and Altoona surged to a 29-17 lead by the intermission.
Hollidaysburg sliced a 15-point deficit to five on a couple of Jennings free throws that ended a 10-0 run with 1:40 to play, but the Lady Tigers couldn’t capitalize on a couple of chances to get closer. Hatch essentially put it away with two free throws at the 22.7 mark, and Lee rebounded a missed free throw and scored in the final seconds to set the final.
Hollidaysburg ended the season 16-3. The Lady Tigers entered the postseason on a loss to State College.
“Our last two games, Courteney Storm and [point guard] Ashley McClain were shut down, and we didn’t have a lot of other scoring opportunities. All year long, those girls were putting up double-digit points, so when those two kids got shut down, it affected us. Morgan Jennings played well, but we just didn’t get enough all-around from all the kids we put in,” Hollidaysburg coach Deanna Jubeck said.
Like Jennings, Jubeck cited nervousness as a problem for the Lady Tigers. It didn’t seem to be the case for the Lady Lions. In fact, Donley, just a sophomore, showed the poise of a veteran by sinking three 3-pointers in the third quarter to stunt any Hollidaysburg comeback bid.
“I didn’t have any butterflies. I was really pumped up, and I was ready to get the win,” Donley said. “Them beating us twice was the best motivation ever. We beat them in the summer, and I knew we could do it. I wanted to do it for my coaches, I wanted to do it for my team, and I wanted to do it for the seniors.”
Donley’s older sister, Lauren, made a big 3-pointer early in the game 13 seconds after a McClain triple gave Hollidaysburg its only lead at 3-2.
“It was a good starting point. It gave us momentum, and we actually knew we could do it if we hit our shots,” Sarah Donley said. “We are very supportive with each other when we shoot 3s.”
With her teammates keeping the defense honest from the outside, Lee had a little more freedom to operate in the paint. The Hartford recruit was 6-for-12 from the floor, pulled down eight offensive rebounds and even had a pair of steals, and fellow forward Rachel Dibert also was a force on the boards.
“They [the guards] knew I would be double-teamed, but if I kicked it out and they hit their shots, then they would back off and I could start getting my buckets,” Lee said.
“They’ve got the scoring threat. They’ve got the inside threat. Darby put that team on her back and more or less said they weren’t losing, and Altoona rode her emotion,” Jubeck said.
Helsel said she didn’t feel this was a satisfying win to her personally, but it was satisfying.
“I’m happy for these girls,” Helsel said. “They’re happy.”
ALTOONA (54): Hatch 3 2-3 9, S. Donley 5 0-4 14, L. Donley 2 0-0 5, Dibert 1 2-2 4, Darby Lee 6 10-12 22, Knab 0 0-0 0, Mayhue 0 0-0 0, Caracciolo 0 0-0 0. Totals – 17 14-19 54.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (47): McClain 2 1-2 7, Kirsch 0 2-2 2, Storm 2 2-2 6, Jennings 7 4-4 18, Scheel 2 1-4 5, Palfey 1 1-2 3, Haupt 0 0-0 0, Davis 2 0-0 6, Hurliman 0 0-0 0. Totals – 16 11-16 47.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Altoona14 15 13 12-54
Hollidaysburg10 7 14 16-47
3-point goals: Altoona 6 (L. Donley, Hatch, S. Donley 4); Hollidaysburg 4 (McClain 2, Davis 2),
Records: Altoona (10-11); Hollidaysburg (16-3).
Officials: Frank Garritano, Ab Dettorre, Chris Garritano.