LORETTO - In a game filled with emotions and outbursts from both sides, the biggest reaction may have come from State College girls basketball coach Bethany Irwin when Altoona star Darby Lee picked up her second foul with 2:52 to play in the first quarter of the teams' District 6 Class AAAA title game Thursday at DeGol Arena.
Following Lee's offensive foul, Irwin hopped into the air, pumped both fists and her entire bench leapt to its feet in celebration. Lee sat out the rest of the half and for the final 3:58 of the third quarter after she picked up her third foul, but Lee's teammates made it almost not matter.
With Sarah and Lauren Donley leading the way, the Lady Lions connected on six 3-pointers and stayed within five points heading into the final quarter.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Altoona seniors McKenzie Hatch (left) and Lauren Donley walk off the court disappointed after Thursday night’s season-ending loss to State College.
Lee returned and dominated portions of the game, even helping Altoona take a one-point lead with 42.2 seconds left, before State College regained its composure and secured a 60-57 victory and the district championship.
"I thought our team responded well," Altoona coach Jill Helsel said. "When your inside player is in foul trouble and not in the game, other people have to come in the game, and they stepped up.
"Ashley Muffie went in and did a great job. Rachel Dibert went in and did a great job on Kyla Irwin, and they held their own while [Lee] was out."
"It's always difficult, especially when you get that many fouls early in the game," Lee said. "I just had to sit on the bench and cheer for the team and be positive. They played very well and played awesome to keep us in it."
Lee finished the game with 26 points and eight rebounds despite missing 14 minutes and 50 seconds of game time in the 32-minute contest. Her game-high total brought her career total to 1,013 points. After being pulled in the third quarter with three fouls, Lee returned to begin the fourth and didn't pick up her fourth until 12 seconds remained the game. While playing the entire fourth quarter, Lee scored 13 points.
"My hat's off to Darby Lee," Bethany Irwin said. "She played a phenomenal game. It seemed like she didn't miss a shot. Every time she went out with foul trouble, I thought we'd make a run, and we didn't make a run.
"I'm just really proud of the way the girls finished and did what we had to do at the end of the game to finish strong."
Following Lee's layup with 42.2 seconds left, State College turned to its own star forward, Kyla Irwin. Irwin, who led the Lady Little Lions with 24 points and 12 rebounds, backed in and made a layup with 32 seconds left, but Altoona still had two chances to take the lead back.
With 22.3 seconds left, Lee's pass was deflected out of bounds. Altoona (10-12) attempted to inbound the ball and turned it over but managed a jump ball to get the ball back with 16 seconds left.
Following a timeout, the inbounds pass went to Sarah Donley who appeared to draw contact near the sideline. The ruling was that Donley dribbled the ball out of bounds, and State College (17-7) took over as Helsel vehemently protested the call to the officials.
Irwin was fouled by Lee and made two free throws to put the Lady Little Lions ahead by three with 12 seconds left. After a couple passes beyond the arc, McKenzie Hatch drove to the basket and took a shot with less than 2 seconds left, attempting to draw contact. The shot, and the Lady Lions' chance at a district title, came up short.
"We had a four-guard offense in there and wanted to penetrate and kick it to the open person," Helsel said. "We kind of overloaded one side a little too much, but we just didn't get the shot off."
Jalyn Shelton-Burleigh added 10 points and 12 rebounds for State College, including a hook shot with a minute to play that gave the Lady Little Lions a one-point lead before Lee's layup.
"My J-Train, I love that kid," Bethany Irwin said. "She plays hard, and she's really helped out. People can't concentrate on just Kyla."
Sarah Donley finished with 15 points. Her sister, Lauren, Hatch and Lee all played in their final high school game.
"They had their backs against the wall and came back and took the lead," Helsel said. "If we don't make a couple mistakes, we win the game.
"The quickness of McKenzie Hatch, the inside presence of Darby Lee and the outside shooting of Lauren Donley will be missed. All three brought key intangibles to our offense we'll have to find a way to replace."
Lee will continue her basketball career at Division I Hartford next season.
"We had a great season," Lee said. "It sucks that it ends this early. I know they are going to do great things, and I just hope I can play well at Hartford."
STATE COLLEGE (60): Irwin 9 6-7 24, Treglia 5 2-2 12, Mahon 1 1-2 3, King 5 1-5 11, Shelton-Burleigh 5 0-0 10, Hurley 0 0-0 0. Totals - 25 10-16 60.
ALTOONA (57): Darby Lee 9 8-8 26, Hatch 1 0-0 2, L. Donley 3 1-2 9, Dibert 0 2-2 2, S. Donley 4 4-4 15, Muffie 0 0-0 0, Caracciolo 0 0-0 0, Knab 1 0-0 3. Totals - 18 13-14 57.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
State College15 12 16 17 - 60
Altoona15 9 14 19 - 57
3-point goals: State College: none; Altoona 6 (S. Donley 3, L. Donley 2, Knab).
Records: State College (17-7); Altoona (10-12).
Officials: Terri Piatak, Sue Kovensky, Vicki Markowitz.