MIDDLETOWN, Pa.- Penn State Harrisburg's recent hot streak came to an abrupt end at the least opportune moment when the women fell to Keuka 74-62 in an overtime heartbreaker on Saturday, Feb. 25. The loss ended the Lions' school-record 14-game win streak and worse still, came in the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) championship tournament semifinals. Leading by as many as 14 points in the second half, the defeat was a disappointing end to an otherwise stellar season for the blue and white.
Keuka jumped out to an early 8-0 lead and led 10-2 before Penn State Harrisburg used a 14-5 run to take its first lead of the afternoon with 8:42 left in the first half. After Keuka's Mariah Mouzon (Elmira, NY/Elmira Free Academy) hit a free throw to put the Storm up 23-22, the Lions closed out the half on a 10-4 run and took a 32-27 advantage into the break.
The Lions stayed strong in the second half and eventually grabbed their largest lead of the game at 52-38 when senior captain and all-conference second-team selection Dorothea Dixon (Middletown, PA/Middletown) knocked down a pair of free throws with 11:52 remaining in the contest.
Suddenly, Keuka came to life and went on an 11-0 run capped by a jumper from Mouzon. Five different players scored during the Storm's crucial spurt and the momentum had clearly swung in favor of the defending conference tournament champions.
Jessica Bandrowski (Center Moriches, NY/Center Moriches) hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 59-55 and after Mouzon hit a layup and the ensuing free throw to convert an old-fashioned three-point play, Danielle Gravel (Sidney, NY/Sidney) went one for two from the foul line and sliced the blue and white advantage to just one point at 59-58. Bandrowski hit one of two free throws with just 15 seconds left on the clock to knot the score and Penn State Harrisburg was unable to get a good look at the end of regulation.
The Lions, who put a 69-35 hurting on Keuka back on Jan. 15, went scoreless down the stretch, going 0-for-10 from the field during the game's final 5:16.
Overtime came next and the blue and white remained ice cold while the Storm stayed red hot. In the extra session, Gravel hit a pair of free throws to give Keuka its first lead since the five minute mark of the first half. Penn State Harrisburg answered with a three-point play from Amanda Moyer (Carlisle, PA/Cumberland Valley) and regained a one-point advantage but the Storm went on a tear to close the game, scoring the game's final 13 points to pick up the team's eighth straight win.
Senior guard Monet Cunningham (Highspire, PA/Bishop McDevitt) led the way for the Lions offensively, dropping 20 points on Keuka while junior forward and all-conference second-team selection Daril Foose (Altoona, PA/Altoona) finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Dixon grabbed a team-high 14 rebounds and dished out six assists. Junior forward Steph Yetter (Thompsontown, PA/East Juniata) netted nine while Brittani Guerre (Tobyhanna, PA/Pocono Mountain West) and Moyer added eight points apiece. Moyer also pulled-in eight boards.
With the win, Keuka moves on to play the host team and NEAC North Division champion SUNYIT in the NEAC title game on Sunday. The Wildcats narrowly survived in the day's second semifinal game, a 69-67 nail-biter over Lancaster Bible.
As for Penn State Harrisburg, the Lions are left to think about what might have been. Prior to Saturday's semifinal loss, the ladies hadn't dropped a game since they fell on the road to SUNYIT on Jan. 7.
Though the season didn't end ideally for the blue and white, there is still much to be proud of. This year's squad won a school-record 19 games to go along with its unprecedented win streak. The Lions' 17-1 record in NEAC play is another program best and was good enough to secure the conference's South Division championship.
Penn State Harrisburg's 2011-2012 campaign was a historic one. In terms of strongest blue and white women's teams to date, there's no doubt that this year's squad has become the gold standard.