It was a regular-season game with playoff-type intensity at the Altoona Area High School Fieldhouse Friday night.
Heading into the matchup, the Altoona girls basketball team was riding a five-game winning streak and visiting Mid-Penn Commonwealth Conference power Cumberland Valley had rattled off seven straight wins after an opening-season loss.
Altoona amped up its defensive pressure to hold Cumberland Valley in check most of the game, but the Lady Lions struggled to find much of a rhythm on offense and ended up losing a tight 31-26 decision.
“They just did a little bit more,” Altoona coach Chris Fleegle said. “I’m proud of this group, they work extremely hard. I’m not disappointed in their effort. If we get a couple breaks, a couple shots fall, this is a completely different game.”
Unfortunately, the Lady Lions were unable to get much going offensively, failing to reach double figures scoring in any quarter, and saw their record drop to 6-3 overall and 3-2 in the conference.
“Our defense, our effort, our attention to detail, they were all there,” Fleegle said. “It was just a lack of getting that ball to go in the basket.”
Cumberland Valley is 8-1 overall and a perfect 6-0 in the conference.
“A game like this is the type of game that’s going to make both teams better,” Cumberland Valley coach William Wolf said. “Altoona, ourselves, CD (Central Dauphin), are at the top of the conference right now. It was one of those games if Altoona has aspirations of winning the Commonwealth, they needed to beat us, and they came very close to doing that.”
Altoona started the first quarter with an in-your-face pressure defense that gave Cumberland Valley some trouble. The Lady Lions forced three turnovers and held the Eagles scoreless for nearly a five-minute stretch.
CV’s Sienna Manns opened the scoring with a free throw at the 6:57 mark in the first but Altoona responded with seven straight points — a Brooklyn Barron layup, a Nevaeh Gibson free throw, a Lanie Wilt layup, and a Gibson layup — before senior Dejah Hill converted a layup at 2:01 as Altoona carried a 7-3 lead into the second quarter.
The Lady Lions built an eight-point lead — the largest lead of the game for either team — after Barron hit a short jumper and made a layup to force a CV timeout at 6:42 of the second quarter.
Altoona went cold after that and CV scored 10 unanswered points, including two free throws from sophomore standout Jill Jekot right before halftime.
“At the very beginning, we were not shooting the ball real well but I think part of that had to do with the defensive intensity Altoona brought,” Wolf said. “I thought at the beginning of the game they were clearly out-executing us both offensively and defensively. I do think that our girls responded, picked up our intensity, matched their intensity, and we took a two-point lead into the locker room.”
Jekot was able to get a little untracked in the third quarter. She drilled a 3-pointer and made a layup off a steal to give CV a 19-14 lead late in the quarter. Altoona freshman guard Melana Eyer sank a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 19-17, and a free throw from CV’s Sanai Hill pushed her team’s lead to 20-17 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Lady Lions strung together a 7-2 run, capped by a Barron 3-pointer, to grab a 24-22 edge with 5:07 left in the game. Altoona couldn’t muster much offense the rest of the way, missing a handful of 3-point attempts late in the game, as CV closed with a 9-2 run.
“We took the lead in the fourth quarter, we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Fleegle said. “There’s no back to the drawing board because our kids are working hard. We just need to continue to put forth the effort.”
Jekot led CV with 11 points and was the game’s only double-digit scorer.
Barron led Altoona with nine points, while Gibson added seven points and a team-high eight rebounds.
GAME NOTES: Altoona hosts cross-town rival Hollidaysburg on Monday, while Cumberland Valley hosts Central York in a non-conference game today.
CUMBERLAND VALLEY (31): Parsons 2 0-0 4, Berra 0 0-0 0, Jekot 4 2-5 11, Manns 1 3-6 5, D. Hill 3 0-0 6, Morrison 0 0-0 0, S. Hill 0 3-4 3, Cain 1 0-0 2. Totals – 11 8-17 31.
ALTOONA (26): Wilt 1 0-0 2, Lane 0 1-2 1, Barron 4 0-0 9, Gibson 2 3-4 7, Burchfield 1 0-2 2, Krull 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Eyer 1 2-2 5, McGirk 0 0-0 0. Totals – 9 6-10 26.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Cumberland Valley 3 10 7 11 – 31
Altoona 7 4 6 9 – 26
3-point goals – Cumberland Valley 1 (Jekot); Altoona 2 (Barron, Eyer).
Records: Cumberland Valley (8-1 overall, 6-0 Mid-Penn Commonwealth); Altoona (6-3 overall, 3-2 Mid-Penn Commonwealth).
JV: Cumberland Valley, 40-16. High scorers: Cara Morrison, CV, 16; Aniyah Wright, A, 6.
Officials: Clark Adelman, Mike Andrews, Randy Burkett.