by Joel Nelson
ALTOONA, Pa. – In its first Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference contest of the season, the Penn State Altoona women's basketball team won 68-60 against Mount Aloysius College on Wednesday night in Adler Arena.
"I'm really happy with this group of ladies. We didn't have the strongest start, but they dug their heels in and found a way to win," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "The Mounties never stopped. Give them credit for putting up a good fight. Lea Sammarco shot very well for them this evening."
Penn State Altoona (2-2, 1-0 AMCC) turned the ball over only nine times and had strong contributions from all five of their starters. Junior guard Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) led all scorers with 26 points. She knocked down nine of her 17 field goals, including six from downtown. Christine also collected eight rebounds.
Juniors Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) and Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) recorded 12 and 11 points each. Burk hit three shots from downtown and also recorded a pair of blocks.
Sophomore Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) collected her second double-double of the season, adding 11 points and 15 rebounds while playing all 40 minutes of the contest. Freshman Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona) brought home ten rebounds to complement five points and a team-high six assists while playing 39 minutes.
Christine, Cannistraci, and Stevens had two steals each.
"Four out of our five starters finished in double figures. Fin had a stellar game tonight, pouring on 26 points. I feel that a key piece to our win was rebounding – Jess pulled down 10 boards, and Lex had a double-double. This was an area we focused on to prepare for the game," said Wilt. "Taking care of the ball has also been an emphasis from day one, and tonight we did our job by only committing nine turnovers. The biggest component to our win was playing unselfish basketball. We made the extra pass to hit the open player for a nice shot."
The Lady Lions had a rough first quarter, as Machala Gibbons and Breanna Kendrick of Mount Aloysius (0-6, 0-1 AMCC) scored 13 of the team's 20 points to help the visitors take a 20-11 first quarter lead.
Cannistraci helped Penn State Altoona climb back in the game with three field goals and some free throws in the second quarter. The Lady Lions scored 15 and held the Lady Mounties to 11 during the period, as Mount Aloysius held a 31-26 advantage into halftime.
In the third quarter, from the 8:05 mark to the 6:45 mark, Christine and Burk combined for three buckets from downtown to put the Lady Lions in front 36-35. The teams traded baskets throughout the remainder of the quarter, but Mount Aloysius held a 44-41 lead at the end of the third.
Trailing 46-43 with 7:40 left in the fourth quarter, the Lady Lions knocked down three unanswered three-pointers to take a 52-46 lead with 6:15 left. Burk made the first two, followed by one from Christine. Penn State Altoona got its final five points of the contest from free throws en route to the 68-60 victory.
For the Lady Mounties, Lea Sammarco scored 21 points on an 8-of-16 shooting performance, including four three-pointers, and also collected nine rebounds. Kendrick got a double-double with ten rebounds while scoring 16 points, going 8-of-8 from the free throw stripe. Gibbons brought home ten points and a team-high six assists.
The Lady Lions will look for another AMCC win when they face La Roche College in Pittsburgh this Saturday, December 1 at 2:00 p.m. before heading back to Adler Arena on Wednesday, December 5 against AMCC opponent Pitt-Bradford.
"I truly believe this group is special," said Wilt. "We can accomplish a lot as long as we stay focused."