Hazleton, Pa. - Tuesday's weather cancelation meant the Lady Lions would need to rise to the challenge of facing a conference rival in their first action since the winter break ended. On Friday night Hazleton (10-2, 4-1 PSUAC) took to their home court to face a talented Penn State Fayette (5-8, 2-2 PSUAC) squad that would give the Lady Lions all they could handle. The game went back and forth all evening but the Lady Lions managed to stay on top at the conclusion of each period.
Both teams garnered scoring heroics from key individuals but each time the horn rang, Hazleton always seemed to cling to a slim margin in their favor. That proved true in the final minute when Fayette pulled ahead by one point with 1:04 remaining in the game, but sophomores McKenzie Prutsman (Jasper, Ny.) and Haley Nalls (York, Pa.) converted at the charity stripe in the final moments, to give Hazleton the slim 81-78 victory over their rival. The Hazleton duo combined for 47 points in the win, with Nalls touting a season high 28 points in the win.
The Roaring Lions were energized by 19 first half points from Courtney Haines, fresh off her career 1,000 point milestone on Wednesday night. Haines was eight of 14 shooting in the first half, and though cooled in the final two periods, continued to provide productive minutes to finish with a team high 26 points, adding 13 rebounds and seven assists. Nearly matching her fellow senior was Taylor Smith who dominated the paint all evening. Smith notched 25 points on and pulled down a game high 16 boards. Rounding out the top scorers for Fayette was Haley Moreland who chipped in 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Nalls' season high scoring effort of 28 came on 64.3 percent shooting from the field while sinking 10 of 14 attempts from the free throw line. The sophomore's first half performance kept the Lions on top, matching her opponent Haines' first half output with 19 points of her own. Nalls added a team high 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double, adding four assists in the win.
Equally impressive from the free throw line was point guard McKenzie Prutsman. The sophomore struck for e11 of 12 at the stripe to total 19 points for the game while dishing out five assists. Senior Stephanie Guevara (New Brunswick, Nj.) battle foul trouble, but came through when her team needed her to tally 12 points and nine boards, while sophomore Ijonana Laster (Niagara Falls, Ny.) finished the evening with an additional 12 points from the field.
The Lady Lions took the early lead and pulled away by as many as seven points in the opening quarter on a pair of Nalls buckets with just over three minutes to play in the first period. But a string of four consecutive baskets by Courtney Haines erased the Hazleton advantage. The Lady Lions would rebound with a 4-0 run in the final 1:39 to retake the lead at 20-17 heading into the first intermission.
Foul trouble limited junior Jaqclyn Siva-Harrison (South Brunswick, Nj.) to just one minute of action in the second quarter but efforts from her supporting cast kept Hazleton rolling. Both teams traded blows until a Haines triple tied the score at 28 midway through the period, but was followed by a three minute scoring drought for Fayette allowed Hazleton to create some brief separation. Four free throws from Nalls gave Hazleton a six point edge before Haines would close out the period with a pair of her own to leave Fayette trailing 43-39 at the half.
Hazleton would surge ahead to their largest lead of the game in the third frame. A string of makes including a triple from Siva-Harrison and layups from Prutsman and Nalls were capped by a Laster three point make to put the Lady Lions up 56-45 with 4:49 to play in the third. That cushion would come in handy as the resilient Fayette squad reeled off a 9-0 run of their own to pull within two points of Hazleton and ultimately result in a dead heat third quarter with the Lady Lions up 63-59.
The fourth stanza saw Hazleton pull ahead once more, with lay-ins from Guevara, Prutsman and Nalls but Fayette refused to cave, closing the gap and tying the game at 71 midway through the final act. The last minutes of action would see five lead changes as both teams battled for a much need conference victory. A Taylor Smith lay-in gave Fayette a 78-77 advantage with just over a minute to play, putting the Lion's fans on edge.
Prutsman came out of the timeout cool and collected, driving the paint as she had all game and worked her way to the charity stripe to put Hazleton back on top. A mad scramble ensued in the final 30 seconds with both squads turning the ball over to the other, but Nalls would ultimately come out of the mix with the ball, forcing Fayette to foul. The sophomore converted at the line and a last ditch effort from the Roaring Lions came up empty to give Hazleton with 81-78 win.
Hazleton is back on the court Saturday, January 14 at 11:00 a.m. to face Central Penn College, a rescheduled affair from Tuesday's weather cancelation.