Hazleton tops Wilkes-Barre for crucial conference victory

Brianna Clark looks to make a pass on the perimeter.
Brianna Clark looks to make a pass on the perimeter.

Hazleton, Pa. - The Lady Lions came up with a much needed win on Tuesday night, holding off Penn State Wilkes-Barre for an 82-74 in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium. The win vaults Hazleton into a four way tie in the Penn State University Athletic Conference eastern division with an 8-9 conference record and just one victory away from a post-season berth. 

Hazleton did a masterful job on the glass Tuesday night, out-rebounding Wilkes-Barre 63-43 with 21 offensive boards in their favor. The Lions used their advantage on the boards and a 43.5 shooting percentage from the field to overcome 19 collective turnovers to out-score Wilkes-Barre in three of the four quarters.

Right out of the gates, the Lady Lions were on fire, going up 11-0 in the first quarter, behind pairs of baskets by freshman Katura McCorkle (Philadelphia, Pa.) and Scarlet Vargas (Bronx, Ny.) combined with an early triple by freshman Brianna Clark (Effort, Pa.). It would take back to back triples by Wilkes-Barre just to keep pace with Hazleton and late in the period, dumped in three straight from beyond the arc, limiting the Lions to just a four point advantage after the first quarter of play. Wilkes-Barre would come all the way back to tie the Lady Lions midway through the second period, but Hazleton was able to limit the visitors to zero points in the final two and a half minutes of the half, pulling back ahead for a 44-37 cushion at halftime. 

After scoring at will for two quarters, Hazleton would score just five points in the first six minutes and change of the third period, allowing Wilkes-Barre to claim their first lead of the night at 50-49. That slim lead would be short-lived however as Hazleton quickly bounced back with a second chance lay-up by freshman RosaLydia Caputo (Howard Beach, Ny.) followed by back to back makes from McCorkle. Once again, Hazleton closed out the quarter on a run, limiting Wilkes-Barre to just two field goals in the final 4:30 of the period and maintaining a four point lead after three quarters. 

Led by Jessica Charles, Wilkes-Barre made another run to start off the fourth period, notching five baskets in throughout the early portion of the fourth quarter, outscoring Hazleton on her own and leaving the Lions trailing 69-66 with just over three minutes left in regulation. But Lady Lions had had found a way to put up points all evening and the fourth quarter was no exception. Three free throws by Brianna Clark would knot the score at 69 each and Wilkes-Barre foul trouble would send the Lady Lions to the stripe for the duration of the game. Despite shooting just 57.1 percent from the line for the game, Hazleton would earn 17 attempts in the final period and made them when they counted the most. With less than a minute to play and Hazleton leading 78-72, Scarlet Vargas connected on four straight free throws to ice the game and keep Hazleton in the playoff chase. 

Katura McCorkle would end the night as Hazleton's leading scorer, one of five players in double-figures. The freshman went 9-of-14 from the field, adding 14 rebounds in the win, seven of which came on the offensive glass. Scarlet Vargas and RosaLydia Caputo also finished with double-doubles on the evening. Vargas went 6-for-8 from charity stripe, toting 16 points and 10 boards while Caputo added 14 points and a team high 16 rebounds. Rounding out the top efforts on the night were the freshman sister duo of Brianna and Alexa Clark (Effort, Pa.) who pitched in with crucial buckets throughout the night, totaling 14 and 12 points respectively. 

Next up: One game remains in the regular season and this one will be for all the marbles as Hazleton looks to keep their season alive. The Lions will host Penn State Schuylkill on Friday night at 6:00 p.m. in a make or break game for both squads.