Pennsylvania’s Big Dance begins this weekend as boys’ and girls’ teams from across the state begin their quest for a state basketball championship.
Here in Centre County, the State College, Penns Valley and St. Joseph’s girls have all qualified for the tournament, and as usual all three teams will be meeting up with District 7 powerhouses in the first round.
Here’s the schedule and a brief preview of what each team will be facing.
6-2 State College (17-6) vs. 7-3 Bethel Park (21-3)
PIAA AAAAAA first round
Friday, March 8, Bald Eagle Area High School, 6 p.m.
The State College Lady Little Lions had little choice but to get it back together after their loss to Altoona in the District 6 AAAAAA final on Feb. 21.
To their credit, they did in a big way. Facing off against Taylor Allderdice in a District 6-8-10 Regional Playoff on March 2, the Lions came through with a 58-46 victory that insured them a spot in the PIAA tournament.
The win over Alderdice, a high-scoring team out of Pittsburgh that came into the game with an 18-7 record, gave State College the second seed from District 6 and a showdown with the No. 3 team out of District 7, Bethel Park.
Bethel Park is 21-3 on the season and fell to eventual D-7 champion (and undefeated) Peters Township, 36-28, in the district semifinals. The Blackhawks, after losing the first two games against Peters Township, slowed the game down and tried to keep the Indians close into the fourth quarter.
It worked, until Peters Township’s Isabella Mills nailed a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter that put the Indians ahead by 27-18.
From there, the Indians were able to hold off Bethel Park and keep their unbeaten record intact.
Still, for Bethel Park, the loss was only its third of the season, and all of those losses came at the hands of the Indians. Otherwise, the Blackhawks were undefeated.
Bethel Park has four players averaging double figures led by Olivia Westphal with 18.9 points per game. She’s followed by Maddie Dziezgowski with 15.4 ppg, Maria Cerro with 13.5 ppg and Emma Dziezgowski with 10.8 ppg.
State College will again rely on its senior leadership, balance and defense. Seniors Lexi Risha, Kelsey Love, Grace Biddle and Jess Lingenfelter, along with juniors Maya Bokunewicz and Isabelle Leazier, will lead a balanced attack against Bethel Park. But the Lions’ defense — no team scored more than 56 points against them all season — will have to be at its best if the Lions are to move on.
The winner will advance to play either 7-1 Peters Township or 3-6 Harrisburg in the second round, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12.
6-2 Penns Valley (19-6) vs. 7-4 South Park (17-7)
PIAA AAA first round
Friday, March 8, Bald Eagle Area High School, 7:30 p.m.
The No. 1 seeded Penn Cambria Lady Panthers more than lived up to their clippings when they squared off against No. 2 Penns Valley in the District 6 AAA championship on March 1.
The Lady Rams, usually able to control the tempo with their stingy defense, found themselves in an unfamiliar up-and-down affair against the potent Panthers. They stayed with PC — and were actually ahead 41-39 at the half — but a 23-9 run in the third quarter put the Panthers on the way to a 78-63 win.
PC put four players in double figures, led by Makalyn Clapper’s 23, and PV was unable to keep up with the constant offensive pressure of the Panthers.
The loss still left Penns Valley with the No. 2 seed from District 6 in the PIAA tournament and the Rams will take on South Park, the No. 4 seed from District 7, in the first round on March 8 at BEA.
South Park is 17-7 for the season and saw its 13-game winning streak come to an end against Shady Side Academy, 38-35, in the D-7 AAA semifinals at North Hills.
The Eagles held Shady Side scoreless down the stretch — the Indians missed two one-and-ones — but their three-pointer to tie bounced out at the buzzer and Shady Side held on.
The loss put South Park into the No. 4 slot out of D-7 and set up the game against Penns Valley.
South Park has three players averaging over 14 points per game led by Maura Huwalt at 21.3 ppg. Cassidy Zandier scores 15.9 per game and Danielle DeProspo gets 14.2 ppg.
Penns Valley will come into the contest with a balanced offense, led by point guard Hannah Montminy, forward Paige Kubalak and center Isabella Culver. Also, look for a renewed effort from the Ram’s defense that was severely tested against Penn Cambria.
This game looks like a close one all the way, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes — and probably the most foul shots — down the stretch will survive.
6-3 St. Joseph’s Academy (15-8) vs. 7-3 Quigley Catholic (14-11)
PIAA A first round
Saturday, March 9, North Hills High School, Pittsburgh, 4:30 p.m.
After falling short in the District 6 Single-A semifinal against Purchase Line, the St. Joseph’s Lady Wolves secured the district’s No. 3 seed in the PIAA tournament with a 55-46 victory over Blacklick Valley.
The win set up a first-round game against Quigley Catholic out of Pittsburgh, the No. 3 seed in District 7.
Quigley is 14-11 for the season and had a four-game winning streak broken in the D-7 semifinal with a 66-55 loss to Rochester.
In that game, Quigley took a two-point, 46-44, lead early in the fourth quarter, but Rochester rallied down the stretch for the win. The Rams outscored Quigley 22-11 in the final six minutes to take the win and advance to the district final (which they won over West Greene).
Quigley is led in scoring by Taylor Kirschner with 23.4 points per game, and she is followed by Hailey Drutarosky with 16.2 ppg.
Quigley placed third in its conference behind Rochester and Vincentian Academy with an 8-5 record and finished the regular season on a strong streak of winning four of their last five games.
For SJCA, Selena Mann and Denaya Poston-Cooper continue to produce at high levels for the Lady Wolves and will certainly be counted on again against Quigley.
Having to travel and play in a venue familiar to Quigley will be difficult, but SJCA has also been playing well and won 10 of its last 14 games.
The game is scheduled for Saturday, March 9, at North Hills and will tip off at 4:30 p.m.