Mechanicsburg girls claim Big Spring Holiday Classic title

Article by Tom Ash, The Sentinel/Photo by Jason Malmont, The Sentinel

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The Mechanicsburg girls basketball team may have had its struggles so far this season, but when it comes to tournaments, these Wildcats are undefeated.

Mechanicsburg countered a third-quarter push by Big Spring with a 10-0 run en route to the Wildcats’ second-straight Big Spring Holiday Classic championship Thursday in Newville.

“I flat-out love (my team’s) effort and how they play unselfishly,” Mechanicsburg head coach Clay McAllister said. “Those are two things we say are non-negotiable.”

The Wildcats (4-4) opened their season with victories over Spring Grove and Hempfield Area to win the Spring Grove Tournament and, combined with their two wins at Big Spring High School in the Holiday Classic, are 4-0 in tournament competition this season.

However, the back-to-back wins this week provided a welcome end to the team’s four-game, regular-season skid. The Wildcats failed to reach 40 points in any of its three Mid-Penn Keystone Division losses or in a Mid-Penn crossover loss to Middletown this month, but surpassed that mark in both Holiday Classic wins.

Still, Thursday’s win was far from a cinch.

The Wildcats opened the game with a 7-0 run, but the Bulldogs (4-4) responded with a 7-0 run of their own. When Mechanicsburg, ahead by four at halftime, started to pull away in the third quarter, Big Spring 5-foot-11 forward Dru Kepner knocked down a 3-pointer to bring the Bulldogs back within four, 28-24, with 1:47 left before the fourth.

But as often as Big Spring rallied, the Wildcats surged ahead. When the Bulldogs tied the game at 7-7 early, Mechanicsburg junior forward Tali Homick, the tournament MVP, took the lead back with a three-point play and sparked another 7-0 Wildcats run.

When the Bulldogs pulled within four points late in the third, a pair of quick buckets from freshman forward Hannah Brown and Homick, respectively, sparked a 10-0 Mechanicsburg run that culminated in senior Holly Burgard’s 3-pointer with 5:49 left in the game.

“(The Wildcats) get after you in a hurry,” Big Spring head coach Scott Weyant said. “We were down 7-0 early, but we fought back … we kept fighting back, fighting back, but they’d get that easy bucket.

“We need to practice more crucial situations, to put them in more time situations so they’ll know what they need to do in those situations.”

Fueling the Mechanicsburg offense were Homick and Brown, who finished with 14 and 12 points, respectively, including 12 of the team’s 14 third-quarter points. The post pair combined to hit 10 of their 14 shots and evenly split 16 rebounds to share the game high.

“We have some good forwards inside this year,” McAllister said. “We have to find ways of getting them touches.”

“(Homick) was a tough matchup for us,” Weyant said.

Even with the Wildcats’ 10-0 run, the Bulldogs weren’t done. Trailing by seven points throughout the majority of the final 2:30, Big Spring frequently sent the Wildcats to the foul line, hoping to open up a window of opportunity.

Instead, Mechanicsburg connected on five of their eight free throws down the stretch, including a four-for-four effort from Burgard.

“I felt in the last quarter we did well,” McAllister said. “We got the ball in Holly’s hands. That’s where we wanted it.”

The Wildcats were forced to operate without a pair of starters through the majority of the second half. Senior guard Nikki Singiser and junior forward Saige Hilsinger each earned a third personal foul in the final minutes of the first half, but freshman guards Meghan Ross and Bella Gelnett played well enough on the defensive end off the bench to keep Mechanicsburg ahead.

“We had things set (offensively) the way we wanted to, but we were always one second too late to make (it work),” Weyant said.

The pair of victories lifted the Wildcats back to a .500 record – something that brought a smile to McAllister’s face. However, the lapses that allowed the Bulldogs to pull back into contention Thursday served as more signs of just how inexperienced this year’s Mechanicsburg team is and how much more work the Wildcats still have ahead of them.

“It’s one of those things, we want to do the right thing all the time,” McAllister said. “But at times (during an opponent’s rally) – two, three minutes at a time – (our coaches) don’t have time to talk to (the players). They need to learn how to stop it.”

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