Part of Alex Gildea's pregame routine is to be a little bit nervous: If the Hollidaysburg Lady Tiger senior forward has some butterflies before tipoff, she feels ready to play and probably will have a good game.
Gildea and her teammates were right in their comfort zone on Saturday afternoon, and they are making fast starts a habit, too.
Center Morgan Griffith scored 19 points, and Gildea added 17 as the Lady Tigers, getting out of the gates quickly, rolled to a 57-39 win over Elizabeth Forward in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA girls basketball tournament at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Alex Gildea drives to the bucket during Hollidaysburg’s win Saturday.
It's the second straight year Hollidaysburg (16-8) has made it into the second round of states. The Lady Tigers play South Park on Wednesday at a site to be announced.
The Lady Tigers never led by fewer than five after opening the game on a 15-2 run. Saturday's game followed a script similar to Hollidaysburg's District 6 final 10 days earlier at AAHS, when it jumped on Tyrone, 22-4, and coasted to a 20-point win.
"We just knew that we had to come out with a knockout punch,'' Griffith said. "It was just like districts. Once we got the momentum, we just kept going and going and going.''
Griffith and Gildea opened the scoring on consecutive layups off assists from Rachel McClain and Hannah Mercer. McClain then sandwiched 3-pointers around a Kylie Owoc runner for Elizabeth Forward.
Griffith, Gildea and McClain scored Hollidaysburg's first 24 points. McClain netted seven of her nine as the Lady Tigers jumped out to a 15-2 advantage.
"I was pretty pumped up for the game,'' McClain said. "I think we're less nervous this year because we've all been here last year. We lost some big players from last year, but we still have three starters who are back. All of us have played, and we know the game. We knew we had to jump on them early and get a big lead.''
Elizabeth Forward cut it as close as seven, but Gildea scored seven straight points to ignite a 25-8 run that put the Lady Tigers up by 20 with three minutes to go in the third quarter.
"Playing here once a year [in the regular season] gives us an advantage, and playing here again [in the playoffs] gives us an advantage,'' Gildea said. "The coaches just tell us when we have a chance to put someone away not to let down.''
Elizabeth Forward (18-6) was making its first appearance in interdistricts - in fact, its first appearance beyond the WPIAL first round - since 2001. The Lady Warriors were playing for just the third time in more than a month and, with starting senior guard Hannah Ulmer at home ill, EF coach Sam Kosanovich had all underclassmen in his 10-player rotation.
"We talked about the experience of being there. We start a freshman, three sophomores and a junior,'' Kosanovich said. [Griffith's] been there before, and she knows how to finish. I think being a more senior and mature team as they are definitely helped them, but we could have maybe done some things to stop them a little better than we did.''
The Lady Warriors did pose some concerns for Hollidaysburg coach Deanna Jubeck with a pair of 5-foot-11 players, Dana Buck and Natalie Fekula, underneath.
"When I was standing next to them, I was scared, because, on film, they didn't look that big. Seeing them live, they were big, and they were long, and they were lanky,'' Jubeck said.
The Lady Tigers negated Elizabeth Forward's height advantage, though, holding Buck, who was averaging 12.6 points, to four and Fekula, who scores 8.1, to seven. Griffith, meanwhile, pulled down 15 rebounds; Elizabeth Forward had 24 as a team.
"Jubeck really gets us prepared. I was nervous before the game, but, once I started posting up and scoring, I felt pretty good,'' Griffith said. "If I was posting up, our guards definitely know how to get it in to me. They threw some really nice passes.''
Hollidaysburg had 14 assists on 22 buckets. McClain and Mercer each had five assists.
"I'd have to look at the film, but, right now, I'm going to say we played a good game,'' Jubeck said. "We were able to get out in transition, push the ball and get some layups, and Morgan Griffith was a tough guard for them.''
Alison Pastore's 13 points led Elizabeth Forward.
ELIZABETH FORWARD (39): Barkley 2 0-0 4, Pastore 2 8-13, 13, Owoc 2 0-0 4, Fekula 2 3-4 7, Buck 2 0-0 4, Sporio 2 0-0 5, Pekala 0 0-0 0, Cain 0 0-0 0, Paterra 1 0-0 2, Brinson 0 0-0 0. Totals - 13 11-17 39.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (57): Mercer 2 1-3 5, R. McClain 3 1-2 9, Ellis 1 2-2 5, Gildea 8 1-2 17, Griffith 7 5-8 19, Muir 0 0-0 0, Storm 0 0-0 0, A. McClain 1 0-0 2, Tomassetti 0 0-0 0, Uzmack 0 0-0 0, O'Donald 0 0-0 0, Davis 0 0-0 0. Totals - 22 10-17 57.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Elizabeth Forward 6 9 7 17 - 39
Hollidaysburg15 11 12 19 - 57
3-point goals: Elizabeth Forward 2 (Pastore, Sporio); Hollidaysburg 3 (R. McClain 2, Ellis).
Records: Elizabeth Forward (18-6); Hollidaysburg (16-8).
Officials: Dan Gales, Enoch Ferenz, Jeff Fisher.