Site updated 03/10/15 08:10 AM Upper Dauphin Sentinel ©2006
WILLIAMSPORT • Halifax led early against North Penn-Mansfield in its state-tournament opening game, but the contest ended up being one of traded baskets, knotted scores and many lead exchanges.
When it was all said and done, Mansfield’s Lady Tigers squeaked by with a 46-42 victory to send the Wildcats home with an 18-10 record for the season.
“This is a disappointing loss because the coaching staff definitely felt we could beat NP-Mansfield,’’ said Halifax Head Coach Dean Kerstetter. ‘‘Again the same thing played out all post-season, where we could not put four quarters together in a game. We came out strong, but had periods where we went dry.”
In what became a fastpaced contest, Morgan Cox earned an assist as Paige Miller immediately drove to the bucket on the opening tip off to start the scoring. Kaitlyn Garverick responded with an inside bucket for the Tigers – a scenario that would haunt the Cats throughout the game, as the District 4 champs would control the boards and dart through the passing lane like race horses left out of the gate.
Cox then nailed a bucket from the wing and less than a minute later, hit a baseline jumper to give Halifax a 6-2 lead with 6:05 remaining in the first period. The Cats were impressive, initially canning 4-of-5 from the field. However, they could not capitalize on several Tiger turnovers missing layup opportunities or losing the ball themselves in transition. Seven field goal attempts failed.
While the Tigers initially struggled to connect at the rim, they made up for it down the stretch. The inside tandem of Ali Hillson and Garverick split 12 of their team’s 14 points in the first, as they continually drove inside the paint to either score or dish off to each other to earn an assist. In the meantime, Brianna Turner found herself with two fouls in the first half of the quarter, forcing her to take an early respite. After one period, Halifax held on by one point, 15-14.
“When looking at NP-Mansfield on film, we saw that they made quite a few threes, so we decided to challenge their threes. One key to the game was our poor shooting after the first quarter, 11-for-47 (23.4 percent),’’ said Kerstetter.
It was a dogfight in the second quarter as each team struggled with turnovers, a product of the defensive efforts shown by both sides. But by in large, it was a great first half of basketball. The Lady Cats did a better job of not allowing the penetration by Hillson and Garverick in the second quarter.
“It took our defense time to stop their drive and dish for easy buckets. Once we got our defense corrected, we did make it more difficult for them to score,’’ Kerstetter said.
Cox started the second quarter with a steal. A pass to Paige Miller yielded a baseline drive. An offensive put back by Turner gave her team a 19-14 lead with 6:38 remaining. But any lead in this game was short lived. A series of four consecutive Halifax turnovers resulted in the Tigers scrapping their way back to a 20-20 tie at 2:55. Then, a Paige Miller trey was immediately challenged by a trey by Mariah Berguso, and the game remained knotted at 23-23 by halftime.
“Going into the game, we stressed rebounding was probably the most important area to win the game. Early, NP-Mansfield had three or four shots,’’ Kerstetter said. ‘‘After being out-rebounded 15-6 in the first quarter, we rebounded evenly with them the rest of the game. I feel if we would have rebounded better early in the game, we would have had a larger lead at the end of the first quarter.”
In the third frame with baskets being exchanged, Turner picked up her third foul with 5:05 remaining. Paige Miller found Turner for a foul-line jumper. Cox buried a baseline trey, and, within a half minute, buried another triple.
The Cats took their biggest lead of the night (33-27) with 3:29 remaining. But it would be temporary, as Turner picked up her fourth foul with 2:32 remaining, forcing Turner to take a long breather on the bench.
The Tigers took advantage, going on a 7-3 run down the stretch, led by the inside driving of Garverick and Hillson. A short jumper by Kendall Lehman closed the third quarter with Halifax holding on, 36-34.
“We had the opportunity to go up four points at the third quarter buzzer, but could not convert,’’ Kerstetter noted.
With Turner on the bench, the Cats’ woes carried over to a very cold shooting spell in which balls refused to drop. A turnover gave the ball to North Penn and Hillson drained an immediate trey from the top of the key to give her team a 37-36 lead, forcing Kerstetter to take a badly needed timeout with 7:21 remaining.
“With Hillson hitting that three at the beginning of the fourth quarter, that was a turning point. This is where we went dry for almost five minutes,” the coach said.
The Lady Tigers made defensive adjustments, using a 1-3-1 half court trapping defense which proved troublesome to Halifax, who committed six straight turnovers.
“When they went into their 1-3-1, it took us too long to get the girls where they belonged,’’ Kerstetter noted. ‘‘We had six of our 20 turnovers in that period of time. Once we got the girls in the proper spots, we got three easy buckets to get to within two.’’
Mansfield went straight to the jugular, going on an 8-0 run that gave them a 42-36 lead with 6:01 remaining.
Turner's appearance at the 4:27 mark was impressive as she blocked her fifth block for the night on Garverick, and found Kassidy Sorichetti twice in the paint to pull within four points 44-40 with 1:45 remaining.
A Halifax steal was a golden opportunity, but the Cats could not convert the bucket. But a Brynn Miller jumper put the team within one bucket of a tie (44-42).
Another steal by Halifax with 52 seconds remaining yielded yet another crucial missed layup. Halifax was forced to foul, but despite two consecutive missed free throws by North Penn and possession of the ball with :21 remaining, Halifax would not convert. Another opportunity with nine seconds remaining could have tied the game. But an inbounds pass was intercepted by North Penn. After committing a foul and scoring two free throws, another inbounds play with four seconds remaining was also intercepted to seal the Cats' fate.
“This was a tough loss, especially being my last game with that team and my fellow seniors,” said Cox. “I will truly miss it and all of the girls. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
‘‘I think the key to their victory was getting second and third shots, and also getting to the foul line,’’ she added. ‘‘I don’t think our team was on their ‘A Game.’ We never gave up, though, and we played our hearts out. We never stopped hustling and down to the last second,we never stopped playing. It was a great season and one I will never forget.”
Hillson finished the game with 19 points, and Garverick had 17 points and 15 rebounds.
For Halifax, Cox finished the night with 15 points – including nine in the first quarter – along with three treys, five steals, three rebounds and five assists. Paige Miller contributed with eight points, 10 rebounds, two assists and four steals. Turner added seven points.
Halifax committed 20 turnovers, while NP committed 22. The Lady Tigers shot 17-for-53 (32 percent) from the field while Halifax shot 18-for-64 (28 percent). The Cats shot just 2-for-4 from the free throw line while the Tigers made 10-for-18.
“The girls played their hearts out, and I told them that they had nothing to hang their heads about because they did win the TVL championship for the first time in nine years,” said Kerstetter.
“Although we shot only 28.1 percent, we still had an opportunity to tie the game late in the game. This tells me that the girls were determined to do what was necessary to have an opportunity to tie the game at the end,’’ he added. ‘‘After the game, the coaching staff expressed thanks to the seniors for what they have done for our program, and told them only one team will win their final game of the season. Although the team did not meet some of its goals, this was a successful season for the program.’’