by Joel Nelson
ALTOONA, Pa. – The Penn State Altoona women's basketball team lost 73-64 in a close battle against Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference foe La Roche College on Saturday in Adler Arena.
Despite big games from junior Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) and sophomore Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), the Lady Lions (12-12, 10-8 AMCC) could not outduel the Lady Redhawks (16-8, 15-3 AMCC).
"Great play by both teams. There were 13 ties and 14 different lead changes," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "Games like this are tough to lose, but this group battled for 40 solid minutes."
Christine shot 7-of-12 and finished with 18 points, two rebounds, and two assists. Cannistraci brought home her 12th double-double of the season with 20 points and 16 rebounds. She also got two assists and a steal.
Junior Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) got nine points and two steals, and fellow junior Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) got six points, five rebounds, and eight assists to go along with a steal and three blocks. Freshman Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona) had seven points, five rebounds, and three assists. Off the bench, freshman Emily Lehman (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) scored four points and grabbed four rebounds.
"Lex and Fin led the team in scoring, but we had some others hit shots at key moments. Kay had a big three, and Paige, Jess, and Em had some really strong finishes at the rim," said Wilt. "Paige did so many little things that often times can go unnoticed. I mean, she finished the game with eight assists, three blocks, and five boards. Her block on [Danajah] Sanders in the second half gave us huge momentum on both ends of the floor."
In the opening quarter, La Roche struck first with a Dasja Anderson layup, but the Lady Lions put together a 7-0 run from Christine and Cannistraci. Penn State Altoona was able to get 11 points from Cannistraci in the period, as both teams shot 50 percent from the field in a high-scoring first quarter which saw La Roche lead Penn State Altoona 22-21.
Jenna Cole hit a three-pointer with 7:21 left in the second quarter to boost the Lady Redhawks to a 33-26 lead. Penn State Altoona put together a 7-0 run to tie up the game with 4:59 left, which included a Christine three-pointer. An Anderson layup with 1:08 left put La Roche up 45-39, but Christine scored with four seconds remaining, and La Roche held a 45-41 lead by halftime.
The action began to tighten, as neither team got larger than a four-point lead in the third quarter. Heading into the fourth quarter, La Roche was up 59-55, as Cole scored seven points in the third.
Penn State Altoona began the final period of play on a 9-3 run within the first 4:42. La Roche ended the game on a 11-0 run, though, to get the 73-64 victory. Penn State Altoona was held scoreless in the final 5:18 of the game.
Cole hit five three-point shots in the first half, helping boost her to a game-high 25 points for La Roche. Anderson played all 40 minutes, getting a double-double with 20 points and 15 rebounds. Shaundrea Butler scored 18 points and got five steals.
"La Roche is a quick-moving team. Their fast pace can really hurt teams in transition. We were able to contain them and not allow any fast break points. This was a piece of our game plan that we executed very well," Wilt explained. "Sidney Farmer was coming off of an excellent game against the Mount. She got shots, but each one of them was contested, and we held her scoreless for the game. La Roche is a very athletic team, and I'm very pleased with our efforts today. We may have fallen short this time, but I'm certain that it is the fuel we needed for our next game."
Despite the loss, the Lady Lions are back in the AMCC playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season. They will be the fourth seed and will host fifth-seeded Penn State Behrend in a first round AMCC Tournament game on Wednesday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m. in Adler Arena.
This season, Penn State Altoona lost 77-75 at Behrend on December 8, but defeated them 79-63 on January 26 in Adler Arena.