WASHINGTON, Pa. – The Penn State Altoona women's basketball team's 2018-19 season slipped away during the second half of Wednesday night's Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III Championship Tournament first round game, as the Lady Lions suffered an 89-59 defeat to Washington & Jefferson College at the Henry Memorial Center.
Wednesday's game was a Pod 3 matchup in the first round of the ECAC Tournament bracket, with Washington & Jefferson as the number two seed in the pod and Penn State Altoona as the third seed. With the win, the Presidents advance to the ECAC Quarterfinals, where they will face New York University – the top seed in Pod 3 – on Friday, March 1 at Cabrini University. Penn State Altoona is eliminated from the tournament.
"I'm really proud of this group. They've overcome hurdles, they reached goals that they had set, but most importantly, their camaraderie and support for one another was simply amazing," said Penn State Altoona head coach Casey Wilt. "Our returners, Paige, Kay, Finn, and Lex, were great leaders during the highs and lows. I'm forever grateful for them. And I can't say enough about our newcomers this year, who each brought a freshness to our program and a willingness to learn a new system."
Wilt also credits her coaching staff, assistant coaches John Nardozza, Lindsey Port, Janelle Nardozza, and Dustin Martin.
"I've been blessed to have good friends and great coaches alongside of me," she stated. "I'd like to say 'thank you' to John, Linds, Janelle, and Dustin."
The Lady Lions (12-14) played a strong first half and found themselves trailing by just four points at halftime. But Washington & Jefferson (20-8) unleashed a dominant performance in the second half, combining to outscore Penn State Altoona 50-24 in the third and fourth quarters to win by 30.
Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) led the Lady Lions in scoring with 17 points to go along with three rebounds and a block. Finnley Christine (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) added 11 points while tying for the team lead in assists with three. With her 11 points scored, Christine ascended past former Lady Lion Kim Ebersole (1999-2003, 968 points) to move into fifth place on the women's basketball program's all-time scoring list with 971 points scored.
Kaley Strittmatter (Williamsburg, PA/Penn Cambria) finished the evening with 10 points while leading the Lady Lions in rebounds with six, as well as tying for the team-high in assists with three. Emily Lehman (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone) produced nine points and four rebounds off the bench, and Paige Burk (Claysburg, PA/Claysburg-Kimmel) had seven points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. Jessica Stevens (Altoona, PA/Altoona) chipped in five points, three boards, two assists, and two steals.
Washington & Jefferson's Alie Seto led all players with 21 points, while Danielle Parker scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. Hannah Johnston also scored 12 points for the Presidents, while Maria Lawhorne came off the bench to notch 13 points.
"I'm sad that the season has ended, but I'm so very proud and thankful for each of our players," said Wilt. "I look forward to next year and having the gang back together again. I'm excited to see what successes they will have in the 2019-20 season. We wish W&J the best moving forward in the tournament."
Penn State Altoona came out hitting their shots, going 9-for-15 from the floor during the first quarter. That included a 5-for-7 performance from beyond the arc, as the Lady Lions kept pace with Washington & Jefferson in the game's opening period.
Burk's three-pointer and Strittmatter's jumper tied the game 5-5 just under two minutes into the quarter. Christine's layup and Cannistraci's jumper put the visitors up 9-7, and Christine's three-pointer at 5:37 gave Penn State Altoona a 12-9 lead. Just 35 seconds later, Cannistraci's trey made it 15-9.
Strittmatter connected on a three-pointer at 3:20 to put the Lady Lions up 18-16, but Washington & Jefferson embarked on an 11-2 run over the next three minutes. Lawhorne's three-pointer with 20 seconds left in the quarter gave the home team a 27-20 lead.
Christine answered for the Lady Lions, knocking down her team's fifth trey of the quarter with eight seconds remaining to cut Washington & Jefferson's advantage to 27-23.
The teams played an even and much lower-scoring second quarter, as each squad finished the period with just 12 points. Penn State Altoona shot just 26.7% in the second quarter, while Washington & Jefferson only hit 25.0% of their attempts from the floor.
Cannistraci's three-pointer at 8:27 brought Penn State Altoona to within one, 27-26, of the home team's lead. Lehman's layup just over two minutes later kept the Lady Lions within three points, 32-29.
Washington & Jefferson outscored Penn State Altoona 7-1 over the next several minutes, capping the run with a Johnston three-pointer and Seto jumper that extended the Presidents' lead to 39-30 with 1:44 left in the half.
The Lady Lions answered with a late push to trim their deficit. Burk hit a jumper at 1:17, and Stevens converted a three-point play opportunity with her layup and foul shot at the 32-second mark that made it 39-35. That score held up for the rest of the quarter, and the teams went into the intermission separated by four points.
The second half proved to follow a much different script, as Washington & Jefferson's offense kicked into high gear, while the Lady Lions struggled to achieve the same success from the field that they did during the first half. The Presidents shot 62.5% (20-for-32) in the second half, compared to Penn State Altoona's 29.2% (7-for-24) field goal percentage.
Washington & Jefferson used a 29-15 scoring differential to start opening the game up during the third quarter.
Stevens' layup at 8:21 kept the Lady Lions within six, 43-37, and Strittmatter's three-pointer at 7:14 kept her team within eight, 50-42. Christine made a layup at 6:41 to keep her team within nine points, 53-44.
But Washington & Jefferson soon took a double-digit lead that it was able to maintain, finishing the third quarter on a 15-6 run. Parker's three-pointer at 2:50 gave the Presidents a 64-48 lead, and Lawhorne's jumper at 1:22 extended it to 20 points, 68-48.
Washington & Jefferson capped things off by outscoring Penn State Altoona 21-9 in the fourth quarter.
Despite the loss, Penn State Altoona women's basketball hopes to build on what proved to be a strong 2018-19 season. The Lady Lions registered the most overall wins (12) and Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference wins (10) in a season since the 2009-10 squad that went 20-7 overall and 14-6 in the league. The Lady Lions finished the 2018-19 regular season in fourth place in the AMCC, and Penn State Altoona's berth into this season's ECAC Division III Championship Tournament was its first in program history.