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Hot start in second half sinks Lady Lions

HARRISBURG — At several points in Tuesday’s state playoff showdown, Altoona appeared as if it had moved close enough to Nazareth to put some pressure on the front-running Eagles.

At every juncture, though, an athletic, hard-defending Nazareth squad showed it had the answer for every challenge and every game situation.

Nazareth used a 13-0 second-half run to break open a single-digit game, and the District 11 champions rolled to a 59-48 victory over the Mountain Lions in a PIAA Class 6A girls basketball second-round playoff game at Central Dauphin East High School.

Altoona senior Caranda Perea knocked down a 3-pointer on her final shot of the game to reach the 1,000-point milestone for her career, but Nazareth’s all-around effort, fueled by a turnover-causing 1-3-1 zone defense, controlled the rest of the night.

“You get in that hole, and then you work so hard to get to back,” Perea said. “Right when we needed to make that next step, they made a shot at the right time. They’re a good team, and I definitely wasn’t expecting them to be as quick as they were. You can’t really tell that on film. They ran their game plan to a perfect T.”

Nazareth pushed the tempo from the outset, with the zone creating turnovers that led to transition opportunities. The teams traded runs to open the game: Nazareth had a 9-0 lead clipped to 9-6 by an Altoona run, and then Eagles returned the favor by reeling off a 7-0 run to lead 16-6 early in the second.

The Lions kept hanging around, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Adalynn Cherry and Perea pulled them within 25-18 with 1:14 to go in the half. But another transition bucket off a steal, this one by Talya Brugler (game-high 26 points), pushed it to 27-18 at half.

“In the first half, if it wasn’t for a turnover and we actually made them play a half-court offense, I think it was maybe 12-14 points,” Altoona coach Chris Fleegle said. “Against a team like that that has that many weapons, that’s a good number to be at. The problem was 10 points off transition steals and 4-6 points off of offensive rebounds. It was a perfect storm.”

Perea canned a 3-pointer out of the break to cut the deficit to six, the closest it had been since early in the second quarter. That was the high-water mark for the Lions: Nazareth outscored them 18-3 over the next 6:33, going up 45-24 and effectively putting the game out of reach. Madeline Ahearn hit a pair of 3-pointers and Brugler had three straight field goals during the run, all fed by the defensive effort.

“We thought, watching the tape, that we could run on them a little bit if we got the ball out and went,” Nazareth coach Rich Bickert said. “But we had to stop them from penetrating, and we had to rebound. We did a good job on the boards. We got a lot of turnovers, and we finished. That was the big part.”

The Mountain Lions closed the gap with a 22-point fourth-quarter, but the only question that remained following Nazareth’s big run was whether Perea could hit a career milestone. The senior got it on the final shot of her scholastic career, a 3-pointer from the wing with a little more than a minute remaining.

“For me to actually get it feels good, though I obviously would have been more happy if we won,” Perea said. “I was crying because we lost. It’s still good. I think as seniors me and Stevie (Webber) did a great job of helping build the foundation for the program.”

Perea led the Lions with 15 points and five rebounds. Webber hit a trio of 3-pointers to finish with nine points, and Kaylee Smith had 10 points. Brugler added 13 rebound to go with her big scoring night, and Kelly Leszcynski and Ahearn each added 11 for the Eagles, who will meet North Allegheny in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

ALTOONA (48): Rupert 1 1-1 3, Webber 3 0-0 9, Cherry 2 2-2 7, Corbin 0 0-0 0, Perea 6 0-0 15, Smith 4 2-2 10, Lane 0 0-0 0, Barron 2 0-0 4. Totals–18 5-5 48.

NAZARETH (59): Leszcynski 2 6-6 11, Brugler 12 2-3 26, Ahearn 4 0-0 11, Fortner 2 1-2 5, Maholick 1 0-0 2, Paulson 2 0-0 4, Novak 0 0-0 0, Shuler 0 0-0 0, Zelasko 0 0-0 0, Kea 0 0-0 0, Topping 0 0-0 0, Puccio 0 0-0 0. Totals–23 9-11 59.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Altoona 6 12 8 22 — 48

Nazareth 14 13 18 14 — 59

3-pointers: Altoona 7 (Perea 3, Webber 3, Cherry 1). Nazareth 4 (Ahearn 3, Leszcynski 1).

Records: Altoona (14-11); Nazareth (26-4)

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