Tigers Claw Past Mountain Lions In Season Opener, 48-46
The reigning WPIAL Class 6A champion North Allegheny girls’ basketball team opened the 2023-2024 season on Friday night with a 48-46 win over the Altoona Mountain Lions at the Wright Automotive Tip-Off Tournament. The victory was NA’s 11th straight against Altoona and marked the second consecutive year the Tigers began a season with a win against the Mountain Lions.
The contest followed a similar script the last meeting between the two teams with NA building a sizable lead in the early going before Altoona clawed back. The Tigers jumped on the reigning District 6 champions in the first quarter and raced to a 13-7 lead thanks in part to a seven-point first half from senior guard Kellie McConnell.
Altoona slowly began to inch back in the second quarter and cut the deficit to one point on three separate occasions but couldn’t quite overtake North Allegheny. The spurt by the Mountain Lions was built on the strength of two 3-pointers by junior guard Lanie Wilt. A couple of late baskets by sophomore forward Cate Pingpank, who tallied five points in the night, helped NA hold a 22-19 lead at the half.
While the first 16 minutes of play had more of a plodding pace, the second half began with a consistent flow of offense for both teams. McConnell knocked down a 3-pointer midway through the quarter for a 34-29 lead. Wilt and North Allegheny senior Lydia Betz traded baskets, keeping NA in front by five points at 36-31 late in the third quarter.
Altoona junior Melana Eyer, who was in foul trouble in the first half, found a rhythm in third period and scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half. Along with Eyer, Wilt continued her torrid perimeter shooting in the second half and sparked a 9-1 run that vaulted Altoona in front for a 40-37 lead with just over five minutes remaining in the game.
North Allegheny tied the game at 40-40 on a 3-pointer by senior Caroline Henderson before junior Jaiden Krull’s layup put Altoona back in front, 42-40, with 4:41 remaining. Henderson immediately answered back for North Allegheny with an old-fashioned 3-point play, making a layup and free-throw to leapfrog NA ahead, 43-42, with 4:33 to play.
From that point on, the Tigers never trailed again. With NA in front 45-44 and 22 seconds remaining, Altoona had a chance to pull ahead but a steal by sophomore Vange Balouris stonewalled the Mountain Lions and a subsequent foul sent Henderson to the free-throw line with seven seconds remaining. Henderson made both free throws to increase the NA lead to 47-44. From there, the Tigers hung on for a 48-46 victory.
Henderson scored 11 of her team-high 14 points in the second half to earn Wright Automotive Player of the Game honors. McConnell finished with 13 points to also notch double figures. Wilt paced Altoona with a game-high 17 points and four 3-pointers.
Following the season-opening win, North Allegheny will take on Penn Hills on Saturday afternoon in the final day of the Wright Automotive Tip-Off Tournament.
Girls Basketball vs. Altoona, 12-1-23
|SCORE BY QUARTERS