Lady Lions Defeat Hilbert for Fifth Straight Win

Photo (by Tim Belardi): Junior guard Finnley Christine drives by Hilbert's #1 Emily Gawlak during Saturday's win in the Adler Arena.
Photo (by Tim Belardi): Junior guard Finnley Christine drives by Hilbert's #1 Emily Gawlak during Saturday's win in the Adler Arena.

by Joel Nelson

ALTOONA, Pa. – The Penn State Altoona women's basketball team extended its winning streak to five games with an 88-75 victory over Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference foe Hilbert College on Saturday afternoon in Adler Arena.

The Lady Lions (8-7, 6-3 AMCC) had excellent contributions on both sides of the ball from their starters to hand Hilbert, which entered as the second-place team in the AMCC, the loss.

"We knew that today was going to be a battle from start to finish," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "Hilbert has been holding their opponents to 58 points per game. [Emily] Gawlak played a heck of a game for Hilbert."

Junior Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) had another strong game, finishing with 29 points on a 10-of-17 shooting performance and hitting six of her seven free throw shots. She also hit three times from downtown while recording four rebounds, three assists, and a career-high seven steals. Christine has scored 20 or more points in four of the five games during the win streak.

Sophomore Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) and junior Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) each went 6-of-13 from the field, with Cannistraci getting 20 points and nine rebounds, as Strittmatter got 17 points, five boards, and three assists. Cannistraci has scored 15 or more points in nine of her past ten contests.

Freshman Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona) got 11 points, seven rebounds, and tied her season-high in assists with eight. Stevens has dished out six or more assists in four games during the win streak. Junior Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) finished with nine points, four rebounds, and six assists, as well as two blocks.

Defensively, as a team, the Lady Lions' starters combined for 16 steals and six blocks.

"We did a great job moving the ball up the floor, and we were able to get some nice looks in transition," said Wilt. "But a key moment for us was our ability to hold Hilbert to nine points in the third quarter."

Hilbert suffers its second AMCC loss to fall to 6-2 in the conference, and they hold an 11-4 overall record. Emily Gawlak scored 23 points and Ashley Repine scored 22, as they combined to go 20-of-32 from the field. Repine also collected 14 rebounds to complete a double-double performance.

Throughout the first 3:21 of the first quarter, the teams traded field goals before Penn State Altoona added the first pair of consecutive field goals with Christine, and another from Strittmatter. Christine would boost Penn State Altoona with 14 of the team's 29 first quarter points, holding a 29-25 advantage by the end of the period.

Hilbert put together a 7-0 run to start the second quarter, but Penn State Altoona got a basket from Cannistraci with 6:42 left to cut Hilbert's lead to 32-31. The Lady Hawks snuck out to a 38-31 lead with 4:50 to go and held Penn State Altoona to only one Cannistraci field goal within the first 6:30 until Burk hit with 3:30 left. The Lady Lions crept back up and held Hilbert scoreless in the final two minutes, but they still trailed 41-39 at the half.

Penn State Altoona struck first in the third quarter with a Stevens layup 22 seconds in, but the teams would trade the next four baskets, and be knotted up at 45 with 6:19 left. Cannistraci, Stevens, and Strittmatter boosted Coach Wilt's crew to an 8-0 run over the next 2:30, and Penn State Altoona headed into the final quarter up 59-50.

Hilbert began the fourth quarter on a 5-0 run, but Christine and Strittmatter would shut that down with five points to match. The Lady Hawks cut the Penn State Altoona lead to three, 66-63, with 5:53 left. Cannistraci, Stevens, Christine, and Strittmatter put together a 10-2 run with 3:38 left to build a 76-65 advantage, and the Lady Lions did not look back. Christine notched five free throws to end the game, and Penn State Altoona boosted the win streak to five with the 88-75 victory.

This was a big win for the Lady Lions, who will begin a three-game AMCC road trip starting on Wednesday, January 16 at Franciscan University. After taking on the Lady Barons, Penn State Altoona will travel to Buffalo to face Medaille College on Saturday, January 19. The road trip concludes with a rivalry game at Mount Aloysius College on Wednesday, January 23. The Lady Lions will look for season sweeps of all three teams, before returning home on Saturday, January 26 to take on Penn State Behrend.