By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
It wasn’t long into the second quarter Tuesday when a Bloomsburg fan recognized the best way to defend Lewisburg and senior sniper Maria Kelleher.
“Don’t let her take an outside shot!” was the plea from the stands, which would have solved the Panthers’ problem.
Kelleher, though, was feeling her shot so much — so deeply entrenched in a zone — that she backed away from the defense for better looks.
She drilled 3-pointers from such distance that the groans of the Bloomsburg faithful eventually turned to sighs of resignation and admiration.
Kelleher scored 26 points (one off her season-best) on the strength of seven triples in the Green Dragons’ 58-37 win in the first round of the District 4 Class AA tournament at Danville High.
The point guard matched her season scoring average by halftime, in addition to scoring the 1,000th point of her high school career.
“Once I made my second (3-pointer), I knew I was going to be hot. So I just kept trying and making them,” said Kelleher, who was 7 of 9 from 3-point range. “I wasn’t even keeping track in my head. My friend Debbie said to me on the side, ‘You have 25 points!’ I was like, ‘OK. I just want to win the game.’
“I’m just so glad we won.”
The seventh-seeded Green Dragons (16-7) snapped a two-game losing streak to end the regular season, they’re only back-to-back losses of the year. They’ll play No. 2 Wyalusing Valley (17-5), last year’s district runner-up, in the quarterfinals at a day, time and site to be announced.
Lewisburg cooled one of the hottest teams in the district. Bloomsburg (11-12) won its final six games to reach .500 and qualify for the tournament.
Kelleher tried to ice the Panther early, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers in the opening 2-plus minutes. Her third trey late in the quarter put the Dragons ahead 11-5.
“Maria can get hot and she definitely found her stroke early and gave us a good start to the game,” said Lewisburg coach Phil Stamm. “She’s got the shooter’s mentality. When you’re on, you’re on. You just keep letting it go.”
Bloomsburg bridged the quarters with a 7-1 run, tying the score at 12 on a Natalie Wittman layup. Lois Lesher, who had three of Lewisburg’s five first-quarter blocks, kicked a pass to Kelleher for a trey in the midst of an 8-0 run over 2 minutes.
With 2 1/2 minutes left in the half, Kelleher connected from straightaway, a few feet beyond the arc, for the Dragons’ largest lead, 27-18. She was 5 of 6 from three with 17 points in the half.
“After awhile it didn’t even come down to (scoring for) 1,000 anymore,” she said. “Once I made my third three, I was like, I need to do this to win. I don’t want to this season to end.
“It didn’t even matter about 1,000; I needed this first-round district win.”
Lewisburg made its first four shots of the third quarter in a 10-3 run, then 6 of 7 to go ahead by 21. Kelleher had a pair of 3-pointers and a scoop in the lane during the spree to reach 25 points at a juncture where Bloomsburg had 26. Emily Conrad (15 points) also hit a trey in the sequence, and Kasey Conrad and Haley Stanko scored as well.
“In the second half, the other girls picked it up when Bloomsburg started shading Maria. They showed they can score too,” said Stamm. “We preached it all year long. Maria can carry us in some games, but we need everyone to get in the offense if we’re really going to be successful.”
Wittman scored seven of her team-high 19 in the third quarter, exchanging threes with Kelleher at one point, but the Panthers shot just 31 percent (5 of 16) and committed 10 turnovers in the second half.
Kelleher left the game to an ovation with 1:37 showing. Her milestone was acknowledged by the PA announcer before the start of the second half, but the spoils (the game ball, balloons and a bouquet of flowers and candy) came after the final buzzer.
“I’ve worked really hard throughout the four years, and it just feels really good to make 1,000,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without my teammates; my teammates are amazing and they really support me. I’m so glad to call them my teammates and also my best friends.”