by Joel Nelson
ALTOONA, Pa. – The Penn State Altoona women's basketball team got back on the winning track Sunday afternoon, defeating Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference opponent Medaille College 82-74 in Adler Arena.
The Lady Lions (3-5, 2-3 AMCC) had lost their previous three games, including the most recent two by a combined five points against Pitt-Bradford and Penn State Behrend.
"We set a goal for today. We wanted to get a 'W' before sending the ladies home for the holidays. It wasn't the prettiest or easiest win, but we got it done," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "Medaille played a heck of a game. They hit some big shots and kept us on our toes, including Brigid Taylor, who was on fire from the outside. Everyone contributed for us, and we had people step up when we needed it."
Penn State Altoona was able to get the win with big contributions from all five of its starters. Each of them finished the game with double digit point totals.
Leading the way for the Lady Lions was sophomore Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), who brought home her fourth double-double of the season with a 22-point, 13-rebound effort. Cannistraci went 10-of-10 from the free throw stripe, got a steal, and blocked three shots. Fresh off AMCC Player of the Week honors, junior Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) used the help of a couple three-point shots in her 18-point contribution, to go along with four boards, four assists, and a steal. Junior Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn-Cambria) dropped 16 points and collected eight boards while adding a steal and an assist. Junior Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) hit three three-pointers as part of a 4-of-7 shooting effort, collecting 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists, a steal, and two blocks. Freshman Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona) recorded her third straight game in double-digits, bringing in 12 points from four field goals and four free throws. Stevens also got five boards, three assists, and a block.
As a team, the Lady Lions went 22-of-27 (81.5%) from the free throw stripe. The team also outscored Medaille by eight in second chance points and points in the paint.
"Kay really got in the boards for us in the second half, and Liv [Alivia Borlie] did a heck of a job defensively on Jasmine Mott. Lex also turned in a heck of a game for not feeling 100%," said Wilt. "How about Jess' big defensive play in the fourth? The gym erupted on that play. We struggled defensively as a whole today, but that play made by Jess was pivotal."
The Lady Mavericks hopped out to an 8-2 first quarter lead before an 11-0 run by Penn State Altoona that included scores from from Strittmatter, Cannistraci, and Stevens. The Lady Lions held a 23-19 advantage at the end of the first period, with Strittmatter adding the team's first six points.
Penn State Altoona led by nine with 5:28 to go in the second quarter after a three-pointer by Christine that made it 32-23. Medaille tied in the final minute, but a Strittmatter three with 28 seconds to go gave the Lady Lions a 40-37 advantage going into halftime.
Coach Wilt's crew built a 46-37 lead within the first 2:51 of the third quarter. Medaille kept knocking on the door and ultimately went into the fourth quarter down by one with the help of a pair of Brigid Taylor three-pointers. The Lady Lions used an 8-1 run in the mid-to-late minutes of the fourth quarter to get out to a 76-67 lead.
Medaille's Amanda Arnold put together six unanswered points to cut Penn State Altoona's lead to 76-73 with 1:51 left. Cannistraci, Stevens, and Christine shut that down, though, combining for the team's final six points to secure the 82-74 victory.
For Medaille (2-7, 1-3 AMCC), Arnold led the way with 16 points and two steals while Taylor dropped 15 from five three-pointers. Breanna Walker fell a rebound short of a double-double, putting together 10 points with nine rebounds and three steals. Jasmine Mott and Katherine Willett got seven points each, and off the bench, Morgan Kennedy got 11 points and seven rebounds.
After the holidays, the Lady Lions will travel to Delaware, Ohio for the Hoops for Hope Tournament. On Friday, December 28, Coach Wilt's squad will take on host team Ohio Wesleyan University at 6 p.m. Penn State Altoona will take on either Hope College or the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh the following day in the championship or consolation game.
The Lady Lions conclude the calendar year on New Year's Eve, Monday, December 31, when they host non-conference opponent Chatham University at 1 p.m.