HAZLETON, Pa. - No. 2 Penn State Hazleton got a scare from no. 3 seed Penn State Lehigh Valley, but survived with a 76-71 win in a Penn State University Athletic Conference women's basketball semifinal on Saturday afternoon in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium.
Hazleton, the no. 2 seed in the PSUAC tournament and the no. 2 team in the latest USCAA Coaches Poll, started fast but couldn't keep their momentum early. Lehigh Valley, ranked 7th in the most recent USCAA Poll, erased a 10-point deficit over the final five minutes of the first quarter before a big second quarter gave the visitors a 10-point halftime lead.
Junior Stephanie Guevara (North Brunswick, NJ) led the second half resurgence for Hazleton and finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Hazleton came out on fire, grabbing a quick 9-0 lead just two minutes into action. The Lady Lions led by as many as 10 at the halfway mark of the first quarter. That's when Lehigh Valley made their run. The Lions forced Hazleton into uncharacteristic turnovers and took advantage, ultimately forcing 16 first half miscues while they cut into, and eventually took, the lead.
Lehigh Valley cut the gap to 14-12 and would ultimately tie the score at 16 after one quarter of play. The teams went back-and-forth through the first three minutes of the second stanza before Lehigh Valley made their move.
The Lions used a 9-3 run to grab a 29-21 lead. Guevara helped cut into the lead, making three lay-ups as Hazleton pulled within three at 31-28. But Andrea Watkins answered with seven straight points for Lehigh Valley to end the half with Hazleton trailing 40-30.
Hazleton trailed by as many as 12 early in the third quarter, going scoreless for the first 2:13 of the half. Freshman McKenzie Prutsman (Jasper, NY) hit a three, Guevara added a lay-up and sophomore Kamryn Dodd (Stevensville, Md.) scored four straight points to make it 44-39 with 5:50 remaining in the third.
Shortly after cutting the deficit to five, senior Alexis Daly (Wyalusing, Pa.) went to the bench with her fourth foul. Guevara and freshman Haley Nalls (York, Pa.) picked up the slack in the immediate aftermath, aggressively attacking the rim and hitting jumpers. Guevara hit a three and she and Nalls combined for six straight free throws to tie the score at 48 apiece. A Nalls jumper gave Hazleton their first lead since the first quarter and the teams would trade buckets in the final 3:27 of the third to finish tied once again, this time at 57-57.
Lehigh Valley led 62-60 until Prutsman hit a three from the top of the arc to make it a one point Hazleton advantage. Lehigh Valley answered and the teams found themselves knotted once again at 67-67. Guevara got to the line and hit two free throws and Daly followed with a jumper to give the Lady Lions a 71-67 lead with 2:55 to play.
Watkins, however, was not done. An offensive rebound led to a foul, putting her at the line where she would make both. Less than 30 seconds later Watkins tied the score with a lay-up and just under two minutes to play. Sophomore Jacqlyn Siva-Harrison (South Brunswick, NJ) broke the tie with a drive to the basket and Lehigh Valley couldn't capitalize on attempts from the paint at their end, ultimately leading to Guevara icing the game with three late free throws.
Guevara was Hazleton's go to scorer after senior Alexis Daly (Wyalusing, Pa.) left the game midway through the third with foul trouble. Guevara scored 17 points in the second half, 10 in the third quarter, on her way to a season-high 26 points. Guevara finished 8-of-17 from the field, and 9-for-11 from the free throw line.
Sophomore Jacqlyn Siva-Harrison (South Brunswick, NJ) added 10 points and eight rebounds for Hazleton, while sophomore Kamryn Dodd (Stevensville, Md.) chipped in 10 points to round out scorers in double figures. Daly finished with seven points and 12 rebounds on a rare off-night.
Lehigh Valley's Andrea Watkins led all scorers with 32 points, while teammate Hannah Bankes added 17 for the short-handed Lions.
Next Up: Hazleton awaits the winner of no. 1 Penn State Beaver and no. 5 Penn State Brandywine. The PSUAC Final is scheduled for a 6:45 p.m. tip on Tuesday, Feb. 23rd at the Bryce Jordan Center in University Park, Pa. Hazleton beat Brandywine, 73-68, back on Jan. 29th and lost 66-65 to Beaver just a week ago in the regular season finale.