BELLEFONTE – In years past, surrendering a double-digit lead might have been lethal for the Cambria Heights girls basketball team.
But with a group of experienced and mentally sharp players, nothing can derail the Lady Highlanders.
Facing District 3 runner-up Trinity in the PIAA Class AAA second round Tuesday night at Bellefonte Area High School, the Highlanders surrendered an early 10-point lead and trailed midway through the third quarter.
After regrouping and finding different ways to score, the Lady Highlanders came back and clinched their first-ever trip to the state quarterfinals with a 53-45 victory.
“These girls have done a lot of firsts for us – both for our school and our program,” Heights coach Amber Fees said. “I told these girls they’re going to make history, and they keep doing it.”
Following a Trinity trey from Ava Stevenson to open the game, Cambria Heights (25-3) held full control early. The Highlanders went on a 14-1 run, which included two 3s from senior Abby Lobick (12 points).
But Trinity (18-7) gained life with a buzzer-beater from Stevenson to close out the first quarter, and a layup from Lauren Trumpy in the opening seconds of the second cut the deficit to four.
Cambria Heights responded, however, with some splash from beyond the arc as Lobick and Paige Jones hit 3-pointers in a span of 10 seconds.
“Because of us driving and scoring on the inside, it made (Trinity) help defense more,” Jones said. “We just kicked it outside, and Abby (Lobick) was scoring like she always does.”
Another trey from Stevenson in the final minute of the first half cut the lead to five, and the Shamrocks took the lead in the second half with a 6-0 run as Heights struggled on offense.
Trinity took the lead as it clogged up the inside of the paint with 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Trumpy, who had seven rebounds and five blocks.
With Trumpy taking up real estate inside and the perimeter shots unable to drop, Heights quickly shifted its gameplan to speed up the game and attack the rim.
“We knew from the beginning of practice what our game plan was, and we knew that we had to move to stop the big girl inside (Trumpy) and get it out to the shooters,” senior forward Emily Henry said. “We had to move our feet.”
Henry (10 points) kept Heights alive in the third.
She scored her team’s first bucket of the second half with 3:03 left in the third, and she netted all eight Highlander points in the third to help reclaim a 37-34 lead after three.
“I think (Trinity has) a really great man-to-man defense,” Fees said. “They’re really long, and I think it was hard for us to get our normal drives. I think in the first half, our shots – especially outside shooting – were really good. Then in the second half, especially in the beginning, we weren’t getting those shots. I told the girls they need to start getting to the rim and being more physical that way.”
Trinity got into foul trouble with three minutes remaining in the game, and after a rough performance at the charity stripe over the past few weeks, Cambria Heights junior Kirsten Weakland stepped up when it mattered most.
She converted on all eight of her free throw attempts in the final minutes to help close out the victory.
“My foul shots have actually been off lately,” said Weakland, who finished with a game-high 18 points.
“Last game, I didn’t make any. During our D6 championship, I missed about half of my foul shots. I’ve been focusing on them a lot before games and at practice – even at halftime I was working on my shots, because I was off in the first half.”
With the victory, Cambria Heights now advances to the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals where it will face District 7 champion Mohawk (24-3). The Warriors defeated District 7 No. 3 Carlynton on Tuesday night, 61-44.
“We’re not stopping now,” Chloe Weakland said. “We want to go all the way.”