Talk of the tournament: Campbell lives up to billing for Bellwood-Antis

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HERSHEY — Hershey’s Giant Center was buzzing with a common theme around 2 p.m. Monday afternoon.

Bellwood-Antis sophomore Alli Campbell is extremely talented.

From media row to West Catholic fans that traveled from Philadelphia and even an on-looking security guard, everyone was talking about the girl they had just seen score 24 of her team’s 25 second-half points in B-A’s 45-42 PIAA Class 2A championship victory.

“Listen, I’ve said to everybody, she’s the best player in the state,” Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney said. “It doesn’t matter what classification. Every game she plays, she makes me look smart.”

One member of the Philadelphia media agreed with Swaney. Astounded that Campbell was ranked No. 8 in her sophomore class among college prospects, he claimed he’d love to see the top seven.

Campbell scored a game-high 34 points and simply willed her Lady Blue Devils to the state title when things got dicey down the stretch.

“It was so electric,” B-A junior Riley D’Angelo said. “We went through some bad spurts, and we went through some good spurts, but through it all, Alli — wow, she hit so many 3s. She brought us back, and she’s amazing.”

Beulah Osueke’s West Catholic team entered Monday’s game knowing it had to at least limit Campbell’s performance to win and still couldn’t do it despite making a game plan centered around stopping her.

“I don’t think our defense played well at all,” Osueke said. “Especially considering (Campbell) had all their second-half points minus one. We were aware that she would be the best offensive player going in.”

When Bellwood-Antis is at its best, everyone is contributing offensively. Four of the Lady Blue Devil starters are averaging at least 10.3 points per game, but West Catholic’s defensive speed had an impact on B-A’s usual potent offense.

“They pressured the ball quite a bit,” Campbell said. “Their defense was pretty good. They forced us to make some passes that went right into their hands.”

Throughout the playoffs, Bellwood-Antis has limited turnovers and valued the ball. Monday afternoon, Swaney was left shaking his head time after time when B-A committed 16 turnovers.

Campbell was certainly part of the trouble.

She made back-to-back turnovers with the score tied at 34 and about six minutes to play.

Undeterred, she took advantage of a screen on Bellwood’s next possession and made her third of four 3-pointers in the final 9:38 of the game.

“We had a few turnovers, but we kept ourselves composed,” Campbell said. “We ended up taking care of the ball when we needed to the most at the end of the game.”

The composure Campbell spoke of likely comes from the other girls knowing they have the best player on the court.

“Alli played amazing,” B-A sophomore Sakeria Haralson said. “She’s just an amazing player all around. I feel privileged to be able to play with her.”

Campbell was recently named the Gatorade Pennsylvania Girls Basketball Player of the Year and will be trying out for the 17-and-under United States national team in Colorado Springs. Yet she remains humble, and many of her five turnovers Monday likely came from trying to get her teammates involved offensively.

“The other girls stepped up in so many other ways than scoring,” Campbell said. “They got important rebounds, clutch steals at the end of the game. Em (Leidig) had a clutch free throw, and her defense was amazing. We all deserve this.”

They all certainly deserve Bellwood-Antis’ first state championship in basketball, but it was Campbell who went out and took it.

“She’s incredible,” Swaney said. “She’s an incredible offensive talent, and I thought she played a great defensive game, too.

“She’s a tough guard. She’s 6-foot-1, and she has great ball-handling skills. She can also post you up. Name your poison with her.”

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521.

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