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Tyrone girls tackle familiar District VI semifinal opponent in Lewistown

Tyrone girls basketball coach Jim Swaney doesn’t talk with his team about its perplexing losing streak against Lewistown.
He doesn’t mention that the Lady Eagles haven’t beaten Lewistown since 1994. Or that Tyrone’s current seniors were in third grade the last time the team toppled the Lady Panthers. Or that three of the most heartbreaking losses in a streak that now spans 21 games came in the post-season – once for all the marbles in the District 6-AAA finals.
But that doesn’t mean that the 15-year Lady Eagles coach doesn’t contemplate on the way Lewistown has snake bitten his program over the last nine seasons, and it doesn’t mean the players don’t either.
“We really don’t bring it up,” Swaney said. “It’s not something that we dwell on. But I think that the kids think about it a little. I know I do.
“There were some years, especially in the late 90s, when they just had more talent than us. The last couple of years, I know we have been as good as they were.”
Unfortunately for Tyrone, that hasn’t translated into anything other than more competitive and spirited games. The spoils of victory have still gone to Lewistown.
The Lady Eagles (15-9) will get another crack at their arch-nemesis tonight at 7:30 when they face Lewistown (19-6) in the District 6-AAA semi-finals at Bald Eagle Area High School in Wingate.
It will be the fourth time since 1995 the teams have faced off in the District playoffs. Two others came in District semi-final games in 1996 and 2001, while the other came in the 1997 finals.
Lewistown, currently ranked ninth in AAA by the Associated Press, beat the Lady Eagles twice earlier this season (57-43 in Tyrone and 74-60 in Lewistown), but Swaney saw some things in those meetings that have him feeling good about tonight’s game.
“In two games this season, we haven’t done a good job of contesting shots or rebounding the basketball,” Swaney said. “We have to do a better job of those things this time if we’re going to have a chance. They definitely have more firepower than us. They want a game in the 60s. We’ll take a game in the 50s but would prefer we play it in the 40s.”
One thing is for certain: if Tyrone’s dynamic inside combination of seniors Joanna Turner and Marie DelBaggio control the interior as they have for most of this season, the Lady Eagles will at least be in a position to win the game. If not, it could be a long night for Tyrone.
Statistics rarely tell the entire story in team sports, but in the case of Turner and DelBaggio, they come close. Both are averaging over 14 points and 10 rebounds per game, making them nearly 53 percent of the Lady Eagles’ offensive output and nearly two-thirds of their board production.
When they’re on the floor together, it changes the way teams play Tyrone on both ends of the floor. The rangy 6-foot DelBaggio’s long reach is the key for Tyrone’s smothering 1-3-1 half-court trap, which has stunted the offenses of the Lady Eagles’ top opponents. Turner’s skills around the basket are unparalleled in the Mountain League and DelBaggio controls the offensive glass like few posts in the area.
“Our crucial people have to stay out of foul trouble,” said Swaney. “There haven’t been too many games since Christmas where Marie wasn’t the best player on the floor, but she can’t be sitting next to us on the bench (with fouls). Turner has to stay on the floor and out of foul situations, also.”
With sophomore post Hilary McNelis just recently returning from a foot injury that sidelined her for most of January and February, Tyrone is set with a six-man rotation that through the early part of the season was quite effective. They’ll be joined by Amber DelBaggio, Emily McKenna and Lauren Haag at the guards. Amanda Bryan and Kylie Wallace will also be able to provide relief at the guard positions.
The semi-final match up is compelling for more than just the time elapsed since Tyrone’s last win over Lewistown. The game pits the two best defensive teams in Class AAA with Lewistown holding a slight edge over Tyrone, limiting opponents to 46.2 points per game. Tyrone has held its opponents to just 47.4 points per game.
The Lady Eagles’ defense will be put to the test like it has been at few other times this season by the Panthers. Led by senior Maddie Runk and sophomore Jenny Cunningham, the Lady Panthers have five players capable of scoring in double figures and stepping forward with a big game. And like most Panther teams, this one can knock down the open jumper.
“Joanna and Marie have to finish on the inside and we have to do a better job of finishing as a team than we did against Bellefonte (in the quarterfinals),” said Swaney. “But when it’s all said and done, if we contest shots and rebound, we can win this game. It’s not a matter of knowing what we have to do, it’s going out and doing it.”
HOOP NOTES: The winner faces the winner of the Indian Valley-Johnstown game in the District finals… Tyrone advanced to the semis by defeating Bellefonte last Wednesday at BEA 45-42….Lewistown had a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed….Lewistown played in the District finals last season, losing to Johnstown… Since 1995, Lewistown has won four District titles, two state championships, and advanced to the PIAA Inter-District playoffs eight times.