Hazleton, Pa. - It was Hazleton senior Stephanie Guevara's (New Brunswick, Nj.) night on Friday when the Lady Lions faced Penn State Brandywine. All eyes were on Guevara as she sat just one point shy of the career 1,000 point mark prior to the game. The senior made history in the first quarter, sinking a free throw to reach the plateau, then capped her banner evening with a double-double effort to lead her team to 75-61 win over Brandywine for sole possession of second place in the Penn State University Athletic Conference.
The Lady Lions opened up a double digit lead in the first period and held off several Brandywine advances throughout the middle quarters to pull off a near wire to wire victory. Hazleton shot 44.3 percent from the field as opposed to just 38.2 percent for the visitors. Despite losing the turnover battle, the Lady Lions connected for 19 assists on the night and out-rebounded Brandywine 41-35 to create the separation on the scoreboard needed to pull off the win.
Chrissy Gledhill hit four long range baskets to lead Branywine with 16 points. Nikki Velez added 15 points with four steals and four assists while Brandi James delivered 10 points and eight rebounds for the visitors.
Hazleton was led by sophomore Ijonana Laster (Niagara Falls, Ny.) who topped all scorers on the night with 18 points. Laster went seven for 17 from the field to pace the Lady Lions offense.
Three other Lady Lions reached double figures including Guevara, sophomore McKenzie Prutsman (Jasper, Ny.) and sophomore Haley Nalls (York, Pa.). After clinching her 1,000th point, Guevara would finish the night with 15 points and game highs with 10 rebounds and six assists. Prutsman went six for six from the charity stripe, totaling 16 points with four assists, while Nalls picked up 15 points, eight rebounds and three steals in the winning effort.
Hazleton's early recipe of transition game paid off in the form of multiple lay ups and trips to the free throw line. The Lady Lions drove the paint for eight lay ups in the first period and hit nine of 11 attempts at the stripe to build and early 25-14 advantage over Brandywine.
Brandywine started the second frame on a 7-2 run but the Lady Lions would hold their opponent scoreless over the next five minute stretch of play. Over the period of time, Hazleton would build a 14 point cushion with buckets from Laster, Prutsman and Nalls, but with 3:17 left in the half, momentum shifted back to Brandywine. The visitors would close the half on a 10-2 swing to trail by just six points at the midway point, 37-31 in favor of Hazleton.
The Lady Lions slipped up early in the quarter, issuing a pair of turnovers that led to five Brandywine points followed by a Brandi James lay up that gave the visitors their first lead of the game at 38-37, just over three minutes into the second half. Both squads would trade offensive runs for the remainder of the quarter, but a pair of Lady Lion triples from Guevara and freshman Shelby Berger (Weatherly, Pa.) would help give Hazleton a slight 55-50 edge heading into the final act.
Nikki Velez would cut the Lions' lead to just two points to start off the frame with a triple in the opening minute but Hazleton would once again answer with a 7-0 run capped by a pair of Nalls field goals in transition. Brandywine's Nikki Velez did all she could to threaten Hazleton's fourth quarter cushion, scoring eight of the visitor's 11 points in the quarter but Hazleton slowly pulled away down the stretch. Just as in the first period, Hazleton found their efficient offense, notching key jumpers and six of eight free throws down the stretch. Leading 65-58 with 3:26 to play, Hazleton would end the period on a 10-3 run to close out the game for their 10th conference win of the season.
The Lady Lions close out a busy week on Saturday with one final PSUAC showdown. Hazleton will host undefeated Penn State Lehigh Valley at 4:00 p.m. in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium with a chance to move into first position in the conference.