Hazleton falls in first round of conference postseason

Natasha Feliciano drives the paint.
Natasha Feliciano drives the paint.

Allentown, Pa. - The Nittany Lions' outstanding run in the second half of the season came to a close on Sunday with the team's loss in the opening round of the PSUAC playoffs to Penn State Lehigh Valley. Hazleton battled Lehigh Valley in Stabler Arena on the Lehigh University campus, nearly overtaking one of the favorites to win the PSUAC championship but foul trouble and a lack of offense late in the contest led to a 75-63 defeat for the Nittany Lions. 

Although Hazleton's largest lead on Sunday was just three points, the Nittany Lions were very much in contention until late in the action. Hazleton kept pace with the home team throughout the first half thanks in part to a 10 point, nine rebound effort from sophomore Rocky Curry (Darby, Pa.). Curry was a handful for Lehigh Valley early in the game but two quick fouls midway through the second period would come back to haunt her late in the game. Sophomores Azaria Johnson (Richmond Hill, Ga.) and Cassandra Rodriguez (League City, Tx.) were a a force in the first half as well. Johnson, dished out four assists in the half and notched 11 points while Rodriguez went for three triples in the second quarter. The Hazleton offense exploded for 24 points in the second period, but despite the red-hot scoring, the Lions still trailed 38-36 at the break. 

The Lions continued to pour in buckets after halftime, with senior Justine Bernazeau (Trelissac, FR) and Rocky Curry knocking in the first two scores of the half. Hazleton led up until the seven minute mark when Lehigh embarked on a 7-0 to claim a six point advantage. Hazleton struggled from the field in the third but the Lions continued to battle and with a pair of late field goals by senior Natasha Feliciano (Cainovas, PR), the Lions once again found themselves within one possession of the home squad. Both teams got off to a slow start in the fourth quarter until Lehigh connected on three straight possessions to command a 59-50 lead with less than seven minutes to play. Hazleton bounced back with a burst of offense from Johnson and Feliciano to get Hazleton within two points of Lehigh Valley but two fouls by Curry over the next minute and a half would disqualify her for the rest of the contest. Without Curry working on the glass, Lehigh Valley tallied five points on two, second chance baskets, expanding their lead to double-figures with just three minutes to play. In a scramble to make up the difference, Hazleton would go 0-for-3 with a turnover on their next four chances, effectively ending their bid to advance to the next round. 

After a 8-4 record in the second half of the PSUAC women's basketball season, Hazleton was playing some terrific basketball but the Lions were unable to get past the top two teams in the league in Penn State Schuylkill and Penn State Lehigh Valley with the final loss of the season credited to the latter. In defeat, Hazleton had four players register double-digits in the scoring column during Sunday's playoff game including Curry who went for her 10th double-double of the season totaling 13 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Azaria Johnson led the team in shooting, notching 17 points on 7-of-14 from the field with six boards and five assists with Feliciano and Rodriguez going for 14 and 11 points respectively.