The State High Girls Basketball Team posing for a picture after the tournament with their championship t-shirts. Photo courtesy of the State High Athletic Department.
The State High Girls’ Basketball Team posing for a picture after the tournament with their championship t-shirts. Photo courtesy of the State High Athletic Department.

Girls’ Basketball Team Wins Holiday Tournament

The State High Girls’ Basketball team mowed down their opponents to go 3-0 over the holiday break, and the highlight was their dominant performance in State High’s Holiday Hardwood Tournament on Dec. 28 and 29.

The tournament was State College Basketball’s annual “Rally for Rudy” event, which is a fundraiser for former State High Boys’ Basketball Coach Rudy Burruss. Burruss was diagnosed with colon cancer and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2021, and recently has been fighting lung cancer as well.

“Rally for Rudy” bracelets on sale at the concession stand. (Noah Radio)

Burruss discovered his love of working with kids while on the road with the Harlem Globetrotters. He continued to have a positive impact on kids after his playing career, working as a Special Education Paraprofessional and coaching boys’ basketball at State High for over 20 years. Last season, the varsity and junior varsity boys’ basketball teams wore warm-up shirts with “RUDY” spelled out on them to show him their support. Burruss is revered in the State College Basketball program and in the larger community, and donations to his cause can be made through Gofundme.

Junior guard Annika Bechtel doesn’t know Rudy personally, but still has fond memories of seeing him at open gyms and around the basketball program.

“We just all want to be there for him no matter what, even if we don’t know him personally, because he’s just part of our program,” Bechtel said.

The Little Lions opened the tournament against Freire Charter and left no doubt as to who was the better team. State High opened on an 11-0 run, which included two Carley Donnell three-pointers and layups from sophomore Lydia Tate and freshman Sheree Wilson.

Freire Charter finally put a point on the board with 4:11 remaining in the first quarter with a free throw from Aliyah Cruz, but nothing the Lady Dragons did on defense could slow down the State High offense.

By the time halftime came around, Donnell had drilled two more threes, and Sienna Wilson had the crowd rocking with a 10-3 personal scoring run. State High led 29-9 at the half, and only widened its lead from there.

Sienna Wilson would finish with 17 points as State High moved on to the finals with a 59-21 decimation of Freire Charter.

Bechtel mentioned that while not much can be taken from a game of this nature, it was nice to see everything they had worked on pay off for the full 32 minutes. Head Coach Alli Mock and her team knew that they would be facing a tougher task as they took on the Shaler Titans in the championship.

In the first two minutes of the tournament final, the tone was set by three jump balls. Shaler also showed that it could do something that Freire Charter could not, knock down three pointers.

Junior point guard Jess Hawbaker kept the Little Lions in this back and forth affair with six of the team’s first eight points. Bechtel called Hawbaker an amazing player and said, “She’s the girl you can always count on, honestly like a flawless basketball player.”

With just over a minute to play in the first quarter, Hawbaker picked up her second foul of the game. Her teammates picked up the slack, though, going on a 7-0 run. Tate drove and layed one in, Donnell stole a pass on the defensive end and made a three, and Diana Tsarnakova capped it off with a pull up jumper to give State High a 17-15 lead going into the first quarter break.

Tsarnakova, who is still getting back into the swing of playing basketball after being sidelined with a concussion, would go on to finish with seven points off the bench.

As Tate took a break to begin the second quarter, Tori Risha, who was giving up six inches or more to Shaler Center Bernesser in height, kept her in check, holding her scoreless over the entire quarter.

Like the first, the second quarter went back and forth, with three ties and three lead changes. Bechtel gave the Little Lions some momentum going into the half with an offensive rebound and putback to tie the score at 22.

State High came out of halftime on a roll with a 10-0 run, capped off by a steal from Sheree Wilson that led to a deep three from Donnell. Shaler stopped the bleeding and quieted the raucous crowd with a timeout, but it could never retake the lead.

Later in the third quarter, Sienna Wilson got the crowd re-energized with stifling defense to cause a five second call against Shaler. On the other end, Tate got into a tie up in the lane, resulting in yet another jump ball. After the call had been made, Tate was called for a technical foul for what appeared to the crowd as just playing to the whistle. Only one point would come out of the play for the Titans, negating any true negative effects for the Little Lions.

In the fourth quarter, Hawbaker continued to make plays, but picked up her fourth personal foul with her team up nine with four minutes to play. Shaler put its foot on the gas and brought the State College lead down to five, but Donnell was able to ice the game with four made free throws. The Little Lions would win the game and the tournament championship, defeating Shaler 44-37.

Donnell and Tate were both named to the all-tournament team, along with Bayleigh Perez and Reese Smetanka from Shaler. Tate scored nine points in the semi-final against Freire Charter and held the bigger and older Bernesser to six points in the championship. Donnell showed out offensively in both games, scoring 12 points in the semi-final and 10 in the final.

Bechtel is optimistic about the rest of the season, and set the team’s goal at a District VI title. She said, “I think we’re definitely in a good spot, we’re getting our momentum, our wins, and I think if we just keep building on it, it’s gonna be great.”

The Little Lions (6-3) are back in action when they travel to take on Carlisle on Jan. 3, 2024.

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    Nancy RadioJan 8, 2024 at 6:30 AM

    Great article Noah but also a great cause. It is wonderful doing a fundraiser for a special cause. Congratulations Lady Lions!