Uniontown, Pa. - Number five seeded Hazleton faced the number four seed in Southern Maine Community College early Thursday evening in the main arena of the Penn State Fayette campus. The Lady Lions entered the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national championships looking to bounce back after a defeat in the Penn State University Athletic Conference championship game and started the contest with a strong effort. Hazleton built a six point lead midway through the second period, but the Seawolves caught fire in the final minutes of the first half and carried that momentum all the way to the finish line, routing Hazleton in the second half by the final score of 85-51.
After an even matchup in the first half, the Seawolves would dominate the box score in the final act, out-rebounding Hazleton by a margin of 12 boards and converting 19 points off Lady Lion turnovers by the game's end. But it was the red hot shooting from Jennifer Conrad and company that sealed the Lady Lions fate in this one. The Seawolves shot over 45 percent from the field and sank nine of 18 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half as opposed to just 15.6 percent shooting from the floor for Hazleton, resulting in a 30 point second half advantage.
Jennifer Conrad caught fire for a 37 point effort, setting a USCAA women's division II tournament record for scoring and three point shots made. The senior sank six of 12 attempts from long range, adding 18 rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots to cap a career night in the winning effort for Southern Maine C.C.
Alicia Ruth knocked in three triples of her own to finish in double figures with 11 points while Kaylah Abdul added 10 points with eight rebounds and a team high five assists. Rounding out the top efforts for Southern Maine was Emily Keene who notched 10 points and four assists in relief work.
Hazleton was led by senior Stephanie Guevara (New Brunswick, Nj.) who totaled a double-double in the losing effort. Guevara tallied 15 points on five of 14 shooting, pulling in 11 rebounds and four steals to top all Lady Lion efforts on the evening. Sophomore McKenzie Prutsman (Jasper, Ny.) added 10 points and three steals, going six for six from the charity stripe.
Both squads would go back and forth in a first quarter that saw four lead changes. The Lady Lions would get out in transition and aggressively attack the man to man defense of Southern Maine to notch six points in the paint and sink six of six from the free throw line to carry an 18-17 advantage into the second frame.
Hazleton would continue to attack the rim as the half progressed, adding eight more free throw makes in the second quarter and with 4:26 remaining in the half, a Guevara free throw gave Hazleton it's largest lead of the game at 32-26. But the Southern Maine offense found it's rhythm in final minutes of play. The Seawolves would reel off three straight triples over the next two minutes of play and finish the half on an 11-1 run to snag a 37-33 lead at halftime.
Sporting a four point lead at the half, Jennifer Conrad made good on three straight triples to start the third quarter, sparking a 20-3 run for Southern Maine in the first six minutes of the period. Hazleton would battle with eight points over a two minute stretch late in the third frame, but Southern Maine continued to strike from long range, erasing any momentum the Lady Lions were building. The Seawolves would out-score Hazleton 30-11 in the third quarter and continue to pour on the offense in final period while Hazleton continued to struggle on the offensive end, leading to the lob-sided defeat.
The Hazleton loss sends the Lady Lions to the consolation bracket, eliminating them from contention for a national title. With one game remaining in the 2016-17 season, Hazleton will look to end another great season on a positive note, drawing Penn State Brandywine in the consolation game. Hazleton will get their opportunity to avenge the PSUAC championship title defeat on Friday at 2:00 p.m. in Maltho gymnasium.