It's been a strange season for the Altoona Mountain Lions.
After losing six of their first seven games, the Lions have turned it around with wins in four of their last five.
And even more interesting, the team has stamped itself as the District 6 Class AAAA favorite by sweeping rivals Hollidaysburg and State College.
Altoona took care of State College, 60-49, Wednesday night at the AAHS Fieldhouse, leading all but three minutes, although the Little Lions were within striking distance until the final seven minutes.
No one seemed to know how many years it's been since an Altoona boys team swept both Hollidaysburg and State College in the same season, but everyone agreed it's been quite a while.
Altoona coaches pointed to improved shooting, both from the field and the foul line, as keys to the Lions' recent success. They knocked down nine 3-pointers, including six in the first quarter when they jumped out to an 18-11 lead. They also converted 8-of-10 free throws in the fourth quarter to seal the victory after State pulled to within 45-41 in the first minute.
"We got within four," SC coach Drew Frank said, "but the next minute I looked up, we were down by 11. Altoona can do it that quickly."
Altoona's balanced scoring and a stingy defense made the difference down the stretch.
"We had balanced scoring - four guys in double figures," coach Paul Hasson noted, scanning the scorebook.
Tony Acrie led the way with 17 points, Jaret Berardinelli had 15, Manny Span 12 and Jermaine Samuel 11.
"We knew State College was going to give us a good game," Hasson said. "Their record (1-14) is deceiving. They play a tough schedule (Mid-Penn Conference) and that Beattie kid missed a lot of games early."
Michael Beattie, who scored a game-high 25 for State, was injured early in the season and missed more than a month.
"He's a nice player," Frank said. "I wish we had more pieces to go with him. We really missed him and we're just happy to have him back.
"I have not seen Altoona play a lot of games, but they're good," Frank said. "Paul Hasson always seems to get his players in the right positions. Moving Acrie inside has been a good move for them. This team is doing it."
Altoona beat State easily in their first meeting Jan. 11, but Hasson expected a tougher go last night.
"They're a solid team and we knew they'd give us their best shot," Hasson said. "We're really playing unselfish, hitting the open man, and breaking presses. Traps hurt us early, but they're not hurting us nearly as much now.
"We changed our shooting routine and we're shooting with a lot of confidence now."
Berardinelli agreed with his coach's assessment.
"We knew they'd come with their best," Berardinelli said. "We just had to prepare for them and not take them lightly. They're still a tough team."
Sweeping both State and Hollidaysburg has done a lot for Altoona's confidence.
"We've got to keep the momentum going into this weekend," Berardinelli said. "We've got five games coming up and we've got to keep going. Everyone's playing well.
"We learned against CD East that if we shared the ball, we're going to win. We needed to quit playing selfish and share the ball. That was our problem last year."
Game notes: Span and Acrie each had 14 rebounds. ... David Simmons had five assists, Berardinelli three. ... Samuel had two assists, three steals and four blocks. ... Lions host Brashear on Friday at 7:30 and Shaler on Saturday at 3:30 as part of girl-boy doubleheaders both days. Lady Lions' games are at 2 and 6. ... A moment of silence was held prior to last night's game in memory of Christopher Amerine, an AASD policeman, who passed away last weekend while playing a pickup basketball game.
STATE COLLEGE (49): M. Hall 0 0-0 0, Cooper 1 0-0 2, Beattie 9 5-5 25, Williams 1 1-3 3, Irwin 1 1-2 3, McCann 2 0-0 4, T. Hall 2 4-4 10, Koudella 1 0-0 2, Kubucki 0 0-0 0. Totals - 17 11-14 49.
ALTOONA (60): Span 5 2-7 12, Samuel 5 4-4 17, Simmons 3 2-2 11, Berardinelli 5 3-4 15, Kirwin 1 0-0 3, Simmons 1 0-0 2, Port 0 0-0 0. Totals - 20 11-17 60.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
State College11 14 13 11 - 49
Altoona18 12 13 17 - 60
3-point goals: State College 4 (Beattie 2, T. Hall 2); Altoona 9 (Acrie 3, Samuel 3, Berardinelli 2, Kirwin).
Records: State College (1-14); Altoona (5-7).
JV: State College, 48-24.