SELINSGROVE — With her team staring at a slight deficit when Rachel Sweger took to the floor early in the second half, the Susquehanna senior returned to the game with a singular objective that rarely changes.
Sweger’s mission was simple yet concise: Give the River Hawks, a spark.
Not only was Sweger able to light the flickering fuse that triggered a second-half rally, but she also provided the accelerant as Susquehanna stepped on the gas pedal, and sped past Lycoming 78-65 Sunday afternoon at O.W. Houts Gymnasium.
Sweger’s spark was substantial finished with 11 points, a team-high nine rebounds, one assist and one steal as Gabby Holko’s surging River Hawks (4-1) closed out a four-game homestand with their fourth victory in a row.
All but one of Sweger’s boards came in the final 16:32.
Starters Erin McQuillen (14 points), Nevin Hoenninger (13), Amanda Lemire (12) and Amalia Esposito (11) also cracked double figures for SU, which will play its next two games away from Houts. Up next is a Tuesday night visit to Arcadia.
Mifflinburg alumnus Kayla Kline paced Lycoming with 17 points and nine rebounds, while Lewisburg grad Akilah McFadden banked 13 of her 15 points before the break. The Warriors (4-2) arrived at Houts sporting a three-game winning streak.
When Sweger entered the game with 6:32 remaining in the third quarter, Susquehanna trailed 50-45. Holko was looking for someone to provide a timely lift, and the River Hawks’ lone senior was ready to go.
Sweger, in fact, never left the game.
Still down 52-49 with 4:26 showing, Sweger made her presence felt by canning a 10-footer from the left edge of the paint, knocking down a 16-foot jumper from the right baseline and then canning a 3-pointer from deeper in the right corner.
Just like that — thanks to a boost from a player the rest of the SU roster calls “Mom” since she’s the lone senior — the River Hawks were up 56-52.
“The biggest thing and Coach says it a lot is we need a spark off the bench,” said Sweger, who was awarded the white hard hat that goes with being chosen as that day’s hardest worker. “With those shots, that’s what our team needs and that’s what I want to do.”
“I’m telling (Sweger) all the time that I need her to be a spark off the bench,” Holko added. “She’s somebody I really need, when we go out there, to calm us all down and knock down the easy shots. She went 100 (percent) from the field (4-for-4 from the floor and 2-for-2 at the line) and I’m extremely proud of her.”
A shift from the extended 1-3-1 zone the River Hawks employed throughout the first half to their scrappy man-to-man defense also proved quite effective — especially with Hoenninger able to put a lid on the explosive McFadden after the break.
“This is the best I’ve seen our man-to-man so far,” Holko admitted.
While Kline bagged two freebies to close the gap to two points, SU responded by unleashing an 11-1 salvo that had the Hawks up 67-55 with 8:13 to go. Lemire buried two deep jumpers, while Kaitlyn Lynch chipped in a pair of finishes at the rack.
Lycoming closed within seven (71-64) with just over a minute to go, but Sweger, Sadie Comfort, McQuillen and Hoenninger combined to knock down seven of eight freebies in the final 55 seconds to close out SU’s fourth consecutive victory.
“Winning’s fun,” Holko said. “Winning’s great.”
“Our coaching staff does a really good job of making us understand how much talent we have and how much potential we have,” Sweger said. “They’re so much more confident in us and that confidence radiates down through us.
“It starts at the top and goes through the team.”
SUSQUEHANNA 78, LYCOMING 65
Kelly Vuz 0-5 1-2 1; Erica Lutz 2-7 2-2 6; Morgan Mader 4-13 0-0 10; Akilah McFadden 7-18 0-0 15; Kayla Kline 6-16 4-5 17; Alex Jones 2-3 0-0 5; Emily Zoscin 0-5 2-2 2; Allison Wagner 1-3 2-2 4; Kenzie Reed 1-1 3-4 5; Ryanna Lamoreaux 0-0 0-0 0; Sydney Purcell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-71 14-17 65.
Erin McQuillen 4-8 2-2 14; Amanda Lemire 6-13 0-0 14; Olivia Brandt 2-10 0-0 4; Amalia Esposito 5-8 1-6 11; Nevin Hoenninger 5-12 3-5 13; Isabella Schwabe 0-0 0-0 0; Rachel Sweger 4-4 2-2 11; Sadie Comfort 1-4 2-2 5; Kaitlyn Lynch 3-4 0-0 6. Totals: 30-63 10-17 78.
Halftime: Tied 41-41. 3-point goals: Lycoming 5-24 (Mader 2-9, Jones 1-1, Kline 1-3, McFadden 1-4, Zoscin 0-2, Vuz 0-5), SU 8-15 (McQuillen 4-6, Lemire 2-3, Sweger 1-1, Comfort 1-3, Hoenninger 0-1, Lynch 0-1). Rebounds: Lycoming 44 (Kline 9), Susquehanna 41 (Sweger 9). Assists: Lycoming 7 (McFadden/Wagner 2), Susquehanna 22 (McQuillen 7). Fouled out: None. Total fouls: Lycoming 13, Susquehanna 15. Technical fouls: None. Turnovers: Lycoming 19, Susquehanna 19. Attendance: N/A.