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Spring Grove girls defeat Hollidaysburg to grab PIAA Class 5-A semifinal basketball berth

ROB ROSE
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After leading for nearly the entire first half, Spring Grove found itself trailing one play into the third quarter.

Hollidaysburg grabbed a one-point lead on a layup, but its advantage was short-lived. The Rockets responded with a dominant display of offense and outscored the Tigers by 13 from that point on to pull away, clinching a 71-59 victory and advancing to the PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball semifinals.

“We’ve been really mentally tough all season,” Spring Grove coach Troy Sowers said. “We always talk about: ‘We’re a 10-point run waiting to happen.’”

Spring Grove vs Hollidaysburg during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

While it wasn't exactly a 10-point spurt, Spring Grove freshman Laila Campbell almost reached that feat herself. Campbell scored six straight points herself and forced Hollidaysburg to call a timeout, as the lead swelled to 12 points with two minutes left in the third quarter.

Campbell scored a season-high 33 points, but you couldn't tell by watching her reactions on the court. The 6-foot standout had an and-one basket and reached her Spring Grove career high, but barely celebrated until the final buzzer sounded. The Rockets' freshman credited keeping her composure on the court as the reason she has been so successful early in her career.

“I know the game can change at any point, so if I get too excited I can lose focus and they can come back on us. So I have to maintain focus,” Campbell said.

Spring Grove's Laila Campbell, center, moves the ball down the court while Hollidaysburg's Marin Miller, left, and Sydney Lear defend during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Sowers added that Campbell has gotten more comfortable as her first varsity season went on, and through her ability to grab offensive rebounds and bring the ball up to attack the defense, she has started to get the right shots for her.

“Early in the season, she was taking what the defense gave her and we said: ‘No, with your frame, ability and athleticism, you’re going to get where you want to get and finish,'” Sowers said.

Ella Kale adds 18: With Campbell giving the Lions issues, Spring Grove senior Ella Kale was able to attack the Hollidaysburg defense from the perimeter. The York-Adams League Division I Player of the Year scored 18 points with four 3-pointers in one final prolific performance in her home gym.

Spring Grove vs Hollidaysburg during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Ella has really taken advantage of teams having to double Laila and concentrate so much on the paint,” Sowers said. “She’s been open a lot and tonight was just a great way to end her career on this floor. I don’t know what could be better for her this year. We won the (Y-A League) Division I title on this floor, we won the district title and now we’re going to the final four in the state.”

Defensive prowess: The Lions' only offense for most of the game came from junior Marin Miller. The Lions' leader scored 27 points, but needed 39 shots to get to that mark. Sowers said despite her high point total he reassured sophomore Leah Kale during timeouts she was making her work for each basket.

Spring Grove vs Hollidaysburg during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“That’s a lot of shots for a single girl and Leah did a great job,” Sowers said. “We knew she was going to make shots, but I will take 12-for-39 defensively all day.”

When the District 3 champion Rockets (21-2) were able to pull away, it was because of a defensive change. Sowers left Leah Kale on Miller, but tasked Campbell with trapping the Lions' leading scorer once she crossed half court. District 6 champion Hollidaysburg (9-6) struggled to score once the ball was forced out of Miller's hands and Spring Grove secured the win.

Spring Grove vs Hollidaysburg during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Chartiers Valley up next: Up next for Spring Grove is a showdown with District 7 champion Chartiers Valley (24-3) on Tuesday at a neutral site to be determined. Chartiers Valley dominated District 10 champion Warren (22-4) on Saturday, 61-38.

The Colts are the reigning 5-A state champions after completing an undefeated season in 2019. The 2020 tournament was halted at the quarterfinal round a season ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sowers knows the Rockets' opponent presents a real challenge. The Colts feature a pair of juniors headed to play NCAA Division I basketball in Aislin Malcolm (Pittsburgh) and Perri Page (Columbia), but he is confident his crew can continue to win games against talented teams.

Spring Grove Head Coach Troy Sowers during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state quarterfinal action against Hollidaysburg at Spring Grove Area High School in Jackson Township, Saturday, March 20, 2021. Spring Grove would win the game 71-59. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Chartiers Valley was the known (team) in the state coming in. I don’t think anybody said the two words 'Spring Grove' at the beginning of the season,” Sowers said. “We lost five seniors, two double-figure scorers and (Y-A League) Division I all-stars, but we picked up the pieces and we talked about playing our best basketball in March. Chartiers Valley is going to be a tough game, but we'll see what we can do on Tuesday.”

The semifinal is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Bald Eagle High School in Bellefonte, Centre County. For Spring Grove, it will likely be about 2 1/2-hour bus ride. Chartiers Valley likely faces a bus ride of three-plus hours.

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.