LORETTO - Michele Muir was feeling pretty good before she and the Hollidaysburg Area High School girls basketball team took the court to try to beat archrival Altoona for the third time this season and get the Lady Tigers their first District 6 Class AAAA championship in 22 years.
She was feeling even better after the game.
Averaging 4.4 points heading into the district finals, Muir got carried away by Hollidaysburg fans after she got carried away with scoring, leading four Lady Tigers in double figures with a career-high 17 points as her school ran away from the Lady Lions, 71-53, on Wednesday night at St. Francis University's DeGol Arena.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
The Lady Tigers celebrate their win over Altoona at St. Francis Wednesday night.
"This is just surreal," Muir, a 5-foot-6 senior guard said. "I don't think any of us seniors have wanted anything this bad. It's like a dream."
It was the third district championship for the Lady Tiger seniors, who won in triple-A the last two seasons. Hollidaysburg improved to 22-2 overall and will play the fifth-place team from the WPIAL in the PIAA tournament on March 8.
Susie Ellis added 16 points off the bench for the Lady Tigers, while fellow seniors Hannah Mercer and Morgan Griffith chipped in with 14 and 10 points, respectively. That offset Darby Lee's monster 29-point performance for Altoona.
"In our dreams, this is the way we wanted it to be scripted. But, on paper, it's not the way we scripted it," Hollidaysburg coach Deanna Jubeck said. "I figured for the past few weeks, that, if we played Altoona, it was going to come down to the wire. I figured it was going to come down to defense, rebounding and mental focus, and I thought we had all three."
However, it was the unassuming Muir who got the biggest ovation after the contest. She scored Hollidaysburg's first seven points and had 15 by halftime, enabling the Lady Tigers to build a lead of as many as 14 in the second quarter.
She also tied for team-high with three of Hollidaysburg's 12 steals.
"Michele Muir was fantastic today," Jubeck said. "She brought offense in the first quarter, and her defense was spectacular, once again. Bottom line is we've got the best guard defenders in the area."
Muir made a little bit of everything - layups, pullup jumpers, catch-and-shoots on the baseline. In the second quarter, she wowed the crowd with an around-the-back dribble and layup.
"I don't know. I just did my thing," said Muir, who set the tone in the first minute when she drove in for a bucket against 6-1 Altoona shot-blocker Kayla Grimme and drew the foul for the three-point play. "We had shoot-around [earlier in the day], and I just felt confident in my shot."
"She had the game of her life. I am so proud of her," Mercer said. "We were driving to my house after school, because we're neighbors, and I asked her, 'How do you feel?' She said, 'I feel on.' Then I said, 'You've got to go.' She said she was just feeling it today."
Mercer turned in a critical play in the first quarter, too. With 3:31 left, she drove to the hoop, stopped and faked to get Grimme in the air, drawing the second foul against the Lady Lion all-stater, who blocked eight shots the last time the teams played.
"We worked all week on doing the pump fake, because we know she liked to come from behind. It's like the 'swat' team in there with Altoona" Mercer said.
With Grimme on the bench, Hollidaysburg penetrated to the hoop with no hesitation to get point-blank shots, foul shots or openings elsewhere.
"We wanted to guard Griffith and switch on screens, but their guards proved to be a little too tough for us tonight," Altoona coach Jill Helsel said.
Altoona might have gotten a little momentum when Kaycie Reffner crossed halfcourt and launched a desperation shot that went in at the second-quarter buzzer to cut the deficit to 11. After McKenzie Hatch's driving layup opened the second-half scoring and got Altoona within nine, Hollidaysburg went on an 8-0 run highlighted by steals and coast-to-coast layups by Mercer and Courteney Storm.
"I definitely thought [the halfcourt shot] that would have been our spark. We just didn't hit some shots we needed to hit at the beginning of the second half," Reffner said. "They're definitely a very good team. They're as good as any of the great teams we've played. We had a tough time defending their guards."
Hollidaysburg made 28 of 50 shots from the field and had as many offensive rebounds - 13 - as Altoona had rebounds. The Lady Tigers got their running game going and surged ahead by as many as 24 in the second half.
"We all worked together. We were focused. We were pumped for this game the whole week," Ellis said.
Just a junior, Lee was 14-for-19 from the field for the Lady Lions. Altoona finished the year 16-8.
"It's tough for our seniors. They're done. It's not a luxury just to get to the district championship anymore. You have to win it. That puts some pressure on our young kids to get better," Helsel said. "It's sad for our seniors. This has been a great senior group."
Hollidaysburg, though, moves on and gave the rest of the teams in the bracket a score of which to take notice.
"Susie, Amy [Tomassetti], Hannah, Grif and I have been together since like fourth grade playing on a Sheetz team," Muir said. "We want to go as far as we can. We could not imagine this being our last game."
ALTOONA (53): Hatch 1 1-3 3, Reffner 3 1-2 9, Donley 2 0-0 6, Lee 14 1-1 29, Grimme 2 0-0 4, Dibert 1 0-0 2, Knab 0 0-0 0, Davis 0 0-0 0. Totals - 23 3-6 53.
HOLLIDAYSBURG (71): Servello 2 0-0 4, Mercer 4 5-6 14, Muir 8 1-1 17, Storm 3 2-3 8, Griffith 5 0-0 10, S. Ellis 5 4-5 16, Jennings 1 0-0 2, Tomassetti 0 0-0 0, McClain 0 0-0 0, Davis 0 0-0 0, Hurliman 0 0-0 0, Palfey 0 0-0 0, Haupt 0 0-0 0. Totals - 28 12-14 71.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Altoona16 15 8 14-53
Hollidaysburg20 22 19 10-71
3-point goals: Altoona 4 (Donley 2, Reffner 2); Hollidaysburg 3 (Mercer, S. Ellis 2).
Officials: Jason Moschgat, Tracy Cornelius, Tim Johnson.
Team records: Altoona (16-8); Hollidaysburg (22-2).