A hush fell over the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse Wednesday night as State College's Jenna Altomare's 3-pointer landed on the rim.
The buzzer to end the game had already sounded, and the only noise was the basketball softly spinning around the top of the basket. It may have only been a second in actuality, but it likely seemed as if it took eons for Altoona coach Jill Helsel and many of the Lady Lion fans in attendance.
As the ball finally begin to lean away from the basket, the first few cheers filled the gym. When the ball landed harmlessly on the floor, signaling Altoona's 55-53 win over the Lady Little Lions, the cheers turned into an eruption as fans, players and the Altoona pep band made up for the previous moment's silence by putting the decibel level off the chart.
Mirror photo by Patrick?Waksmunski
Altoona’s Darby Lee is pressured by State College’s Bridget King. Lee tied the game with a layup with 42 seconds left and helped seal the win with two late free throws. She scored 12 points.
Helsel ran onto the court, and State College coach Bethany Irwin threw her arms up in despair.
"I was thinking 'get off the rim,'" Helsel said regarding the final shot. "It just hung up there and hung up there. I think everyone was holding their breath."
For State College, which led by as many as nine and by six heading into the fourth quarter, the shot was agonizing for a different reason.
"The ball didn't bounce, but it hung up there a really long time," Irwin said. "When it did fall, it didn't fall our way, but credit Altoona for sticking in there and hitting free throws at the end."
Two of those free throws turned out to account for the game-winning points. Darby Lee tied the game on a layup with 42 seconds left, and after Kyla Irwin missed a contested layup for State College, Lee was fouled with four seconds to play. She connected on both free throws to give Altoona its first lead since the first quarter.
"[Kyla Irwin] is very good, but Coach Helsel told me how to get around her, and I went in, did exactly what she said and it worked," Lee said.
Lee finished with 12 points and all of them came in the second half after the 6-foot junior missed the entire second quarter with foul trouble.
"It's hard when it's a tough, close game like this," Lee said. "You obviously want to be in, but I got in foul trouble and my teammates kept us in it."
No Lady Lion played a bigger role in keeping Altoona close than McKenzie Hatch. Hatch made a career-high six 3-pointers for 18 points to lead Altoona. In all, the Lady Lions connected on 10 3-pointers. Kayla Grimme also came up big with a team-high 13 rebounds and 11 points.
"Credit McKenzie Hatch, because we always tell the kids that when they are open they have to knock it down, and she knocked it down tonight," Helsel said. "That was huge for her and the kids who found her open."
Hatch's final trey of the night was part of Altoona's 12-3 run in the final 4:13 to close out the game.
"We preach to the kids to not worry about the calls or anything else and just play the game," Helsel said. "If you do everything fundamentally right and you do what you're supposed to do, then hopefully you will get a steal here or there and things will work out."
Bethany Irwin also talked about the officials following the game.
"It went down to the wire, and Altoona did everything right," Irwin said. "I think a couple calls could have gone our way underneath, but they didn't."
Altomare led State College with 18 points, followed by Kyla Irwin's 14 points.
Altoona, which topped the Lady Little Lions, 61-53, in State College earlier this year, improved to 12-6. State College dropped to 14-8.
"The playoffs are going to be exciting," Helsel said. "Every game is the most important game, and that's the way it's going to be in districts."
STATE COLLEGE (53): Irwin 5 3-4 14, Allison 0 0-0 0, King 2 4-8 8, Altomare 7 2-2 18, Stevenson 3 1-2 8, Treglia 1 2-2 4, Karstetter 1 0-0 2, Kaluza 0 0-0 0. Totals - 19 12-18 53.
ALTOONA (55): Lee 5 2-2 12, Grimme 3 5-7 11, Donley 3 0-0 9, Reffner 1 0-0 3, Hatch 6 0-0 18, Feathers 0 0-0 0, Dibert 1 0-0 2, Knab 0 0-0 0. Totals - 19 7-9 55.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
State College12 16 14 11 - 53
Altoona10 15 11 19 - 55
3-point goals: State College 3 (Altomare 2, irwin); Altoona 10 (Hatch 6, Donley 3, Reffner).
Records: State College (14-8); Altoona (12-6).
Officials: Ray Wotkowski, Justin Fraker, Ray Hoppel
JV: State College, 43-34. High scorers-Jalyn Shelton-Burleigh, SC, 16; Amanda Menegay/Allison Caracciolo/Taylor Campbell, A, 6 each.