Hazleton, Pa. - Freshman Shelby Berger (Weatherly, Pa.) scored a game high 20 points off the #3 Lady Lion bench to help the squad protect their home court on Wednesday night as Hazleton advanced past #6 Dubois, 81-64 in round one of the Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs. Sophomore McKenzie Prutsman (Jasper, Ny.) helped lead Hazleton to a 14 point cushion in the first quarter with an eight point, four assist effort, allowing Berger and the rest of the Lady Lions to build up steam and maintain a double-digit advantage for the remainder of the game.
Hazleton won the turnover battle 19-9, scoring 29 points off DuBois miscues, overcoming their size disadvantage with team speed and defense. In addition, the Lady Lions connected for 25 assists in the ball game and sunk 20 of 25 attempts at the charity stripe to walk away a winner in round one of the playoffs, advancing to Saturday's semi-final matchup with the number two seed, Penn State Beaver.
DuBois was led by Hope Bridge, who secured a double-double with 10 points and 12 boards while Kristen Williams added a team high 11 points in the scoring column. Kash Harris chipped in 10 points and six rebounds off the Dubois bench in just 18 minutes of action to round out visiting players in double figures.
Berger led the Lady Lions with a season high 20 points, nine of which came in a three for three shooting effort in the second quarter. Berger would finish the game seven for seven at the stripe while adding eight rebounds in the Hazleton victory.
Four other Lady Lions topped double figures in a fine offensive output for Hazleton. Sophomore Ijonana Laster (Niagara Falls, Ny.) knocked in three triples to total 16 points and sophomore Haley Nalls (York, Pa.) notched 14 points and nine rebounds.
Prutsman would end the night with 13 points, including two long range makes, a team high eight assists and five rebounds, while teammate senior Stephanie Guevara (New Brunswick, Nj.) earned her 11th double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and six assists with 10 rebounds and five steals, both good for team highs.
Hazleton would take advantage of three early Dubois turnovers and a pair of missed three-point attempts to steal a 6-0 run at the start of play and continue to attack the basket for points in the paint and trips to the free throw line. Hazleton would convert nine of 10 attempts at the stripe in the quarter to help build a 17-8 lead with just 2:36 to play in the first.
But Prutsman was just heating up. After a pair of free throws, the sophomore made good on a triple from the wing, then hooked up with Nalls their next possession for a quick five point burst. Hazleton would close out for a defensive rebound and find Prutsman once more for her second three in just over a minutes' time to cap an 8-0 run down the stretch of the first quarter. Ashley Brown would match Prustman's latest score with a triple of her own in the final seconds of play, but the Lady Lions had built a commanding 25-11 lead after one quarter of action.
The Lady Lions would continue to pour on the offense as the second frame ensued, sparked by a Guevara triple to lead off the scoring. Hazleton would tack on 12 points in the first three minutes of action to leave DuBois at a 25 point deficit with seven minutes remaining in the half. DuBois would bounce back with a 13-7 run to close out the half, but Berger's effort off the bench would help keep Hazleton on top with 44-25 lead at the midway point.
DuBois would keep pace offensively in the second half, but just could not find the defensive stops needed to mount a comeback. Laster would connect on a pair of triples in the third frame to help maintain the Hazleton edge, while Nalls, Guevara and Berger would tack on four points each in the period, benefitting from four additional Prutsman dimes as the Lady Lions expanded their lead to 23 at the end of the period.
The visitors would fight to the end, sinking four three-point attempts in the final period to outscore Hazleton for the first quarter of the evening by a 24-18 margin. A pair of triples from Kristy Hanes and Ashley Brown would shrink the Lady Lion cushion to as few as 14 points, but with under a minute to play, the Hazleton victory was never much in doubt as Hazleton wound down the clock for the post-season win.
Hazleton's win earns the squad a second crack at the number two seed, Penn State Beaver who defeated the Lady Lions on December 2 in the first PSUAC contest of the year. Hazleton will look to avenge the early season loss and earn a spot in the PSUAC title game for the third consecutive season on Saturday, February 18. Tip-off will take place at 7:00 p.m. at Penn State York, host of the 2016-17 PSUAC basketball semi-final and championship rounds.