Lions earn weekend split against PSUAC West

Ashley James shoots from long range.
Ashley James shoots from long range.

Hazleton Pa. - Hazleton remained in contention in a crowded PSUAC eastern division with a weekend split out west in their first action of the new semester. The Lions were knocked off on Friday night at Penn State Beaver by the score of 66-41 but bounced back with a come from behind win on Saturday at Penn State Fayette by the score of 48-46. Saturday's win keeps Hazleton above .500 in conference play and tied for fourth place in the eastern division with a 5-4 conference record. 

Friday, January 13 - Penn State Hazleton 41, Penn State Beaver 66 - Final

Despite the lopsided finish, Friday's contest was quite the game for more than three quarters. Hazleton got production across the roster in the first half with seven players pitching in for 28 first half points. A triple by sophomore Cassandra Rodriguez (League City, Tx.) gave Hazleton a five point lead midway through the second quarter and the Lions remained deadlocked on the scoreboard at the halftime break. Hazleton shot well over forty percent in the first half but as the game progressed, fewer and fewer shots began to drop for the Nittany Lions. The Lions netted just 13 second half points on six field goals and Beaver took full advantage of the doldrums, pulling away in the fourth quarter by converting 75 percent of their attempts in the final 10 minutes of play to win 66-41. 

After a solid start to the game, Hazleton shot just 6-for-23 in second half with sophomore Rocky Curry (Darby, Pa.) finishing the game as the only Nittany Lion in double-figures. Curry ended the night with 14 points and nine rebounds, both of which were team highs. Rodriguez totaled nine points in the loss while senior Natasha Feliciano (Cainovas, PR) added five points and five assists respectively. 

Saturday, January 14 - Penn State Hazleton 48, Penn State Fayette 46 - Final

Not necessarily a must win game for the Nittany Lions but following Friday's loss at Beaver, Saturday's contest proved to be a big game for Hazleton as the look to remain in the playoff hunt and Hazleton was up to the challenge. Hazleton started off the game with the first six points of the contest which would wind up being their largest lead of the game. Fayette held the Lions to just three points in the final five minutes of the first quarter, taking a 12-9 advantage in the process and continued to limit Hazleton to just two field goals over a 12 minute stretch of play in the middle of the first half. Trailing 19-12 with just over three minutes remaining in the first half, Hazleton finally got back to business. Sophomore Ashley James (Weatherly, Pa.) broke the ice with a triple at the three minute mark and Hazleton proceeded to score 10 points in the final stages of play to get within four points at the break. 

Hazleton continued to chip away in the third quarter thanks to a six point burst by sophomore Azaria Johnson (Richmond Hill, Ga.) and the Lions briefly reclaimed the lead on a free throw by Curry late in the third, but a 4-0 run by Fayette to end the quarter left Hazleton trailing 33-36 heading into the final period. Everything would be on the line in the fourth quarter and the Nittany Lions rose to the challenge. WIth just under seven minutes to play, Natasha Feliciano knocked in a triple to knot the score at 38 and moments later, with the score tied at 40-40, Rodriguez cashed in a mid range jumper to give Hazleton their first lead of the quarter and Feliciano extended Hazleton's lead to three points with a lay up at the 3:30 mark. Fayette responded with back to back field goals to go up 45-44 but with less than 1:30 play, Cassandra Rodriguez knocked in the biggest shot of the day. The sophomore had gone 0-8 from beyond the arc to this point in the contest, but Rodriguez cashed in her first triple of the day to put the Lions up for good. Hazleton earned a stop on the ensuing Fayette possession and Feliciano gave Hazleton some breathing room with a free throw with nine seconds to play. Fayette would have a chance to tie the game on their final posession but smart foul by the Lions would keep the home squad from getting off a potential game-tying shot, send Hazleton home with a two point victory. 

Azaria Johnson led Hazleton in the win with a double-double, toting game highs with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Ashley James finished with 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting while Rocky Curry tallied seven points and 10 rebounds in the much needed win for Hazleton. 

Next up: The Nittany Lions return home with a split and will look to carry that momentum into a crucial stretch of games against the PSUAC eastern division in the coming weeks. Hazleton's next outing will be at Penn State Brandywine on Wednesday, January 18 at 6:00 p.m.