For the Mirror
All of Altoona's close games so far this season have resulted in losses.
Until Friday night, that is.
The Lady Lions pulled out a tight one over Gateway, 50-48, at the AAHS Fieldhouse to win the Altoona Area Holiday Basketball Tournament for the third time in the tournament's three-year history.
"We really wanted this one. To win all three years is a great accomplishment," senior guard Kaycie Reffner said. "To come out with a win in a close game is nice. All the hard work we've put in is finally showing some positive results."
The Lady Lions moved above the .500 mark for the first time this season at 4-3.
"We really gutted it out. The shots weren't falling, but our defense played strong," Altoona coach Jill Helsel said. "We've played a ton of close games, but we haven't done a very good job maintaining the lead. We were finally able to do that."
Gateway led by four at halftime, 28-24, but for the second game in a row, Altoona turned in a strong third quarter.
Trailing 30-26, the Lady Lions ripped off eight straight points to grab the lead. After Lauren Donley sank a 3-pointer from the right corner, a Kayla Grimme blocked shot on the defensive end led to a second Donley trey.
Grimme followed with another block on the Lady Gators' next possession that led to a fastbreak and two free throws for McKenzie Hatch, which she converted to put Altoona up 34-30.
"That's my favorite part of the game, blocking shots and getting out on the fastbreak," Grimme said.
Grimme was one of seven Lady Lions to finish with between five and 10 points. Tournament MVP Darby Lee scored a team-high 10 points, and Donley, who was also named to the all-tournament team, had nine.
Hatch tallied eight, while Grimme, Reffner and Natalie Knab scored six points apiece. Shania Feathers added five points.
Altoona took a 38-36 lead to the fourth quarter, and Knab widened the lead to five with a 3-pointer from the right corner.
Gateway rattled off six straight points to take the lead. Morgan Hainsey's offensive rebounding led to three straight layups that put the Lady Gators up 42-41.
Following a timeout, Donley drained a 3-pointer to put Altoona ahead for good. Lee followed with a turn-around jump shot, and the Lady Lions held on from there.
Gateway's Jada Epps turned in a strong game with 20 points.
"We realized in the first quarter she was beating us to the basket," Helsel said. "We just tried to contain her and slow her down as much as we could."
Epps had a chance to tie the game with time winding down, but Hatch fouled her along the baseline before she got a shot off, giving Gateway the ball out of bounds with just one-tenth of a second on the clock.
Gateway's attempt at a quick tip in failed, and time ran out.
"We like to grind it out, execute our offense and get our girls on the glass," Gateway coach Cornelious Nesbit said. "We just couldn't make that last play."
Epps was named to the all-tournament team along with Abington's Deja Rawls and Pine Richland's Marisa Hombosky.
Abington defeated Pine Richland, 45-35, in the girls consolation game.
GATEWAY (48): Epps 10 0-1 20, Richardson 1 1-2 3, Hainsey 5 0-0 10, Taylor 3 1-4 7, Wilson 4 0-1 8, Kuster 0 0-0 0, Thompson-Wade 0 0-0 0. Totals - 23 2-8 48.
ALTOONA (50): Hatch 1 6-6 8, Reffner 2 1-3 6, Donley 3 0-0 9, Lee 4 2-4 10, Feathers 2 1-2 5, Knab 2 0-0 6, Grimme 2 2-3 6. Totals - 16 12-18 50.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Gateway13 15 8 12 - 48
Altoona13 11 14 12 - 50
3-point goals: Altoona 6 (Reffner, Donley 3, Knab 2).
Records: Gateway (5-2); Altoona (4-3).