SCRANTON — Abington Heights senior guard Hannah Kowalski hit key shots down the stretch, but it was the team’s effort on defense and a huge rebounding edge that helped lift the Lady Comets to a 45-29 win over Pittston Area in a District 2 Class 5A girls basketball semifinal game Saturday night at the Lackawanna College Student Union Gymnasium.
“It was a great team effort, defensively,” Abington Heights head coach Deanna Klingman said. “They executed the game plan.”
No. 1 seed Abington Heights (17-7) will try for a third consecutive District 2 title when it plays No. 2 seed Crestwood (17-7), a 60-28 winner over No. 6 seed Wyoming Valley West, at 6 p.m. March 3 at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It’s such a great environment at Mohegan Sun and I think we’re all really pumped,” Kowalski said. “We played them last year and they’re a talented team. We’re going to prepare all week and hopefully get a win.”
Kowalski, who scored a game-high 28 points, attacked the basket early and scored all six of Abington Heights’ points on strong drives to the hoop during the first quarter.
“They have one main post player and our goal was to get her in foul trouble,” Kowalski said. “We wanted to take it to the basket early and, luckily, we were able to take advantage of the openings and get some buckets in the lane.”
Pittston Area sophomore center Leah Hodick also scored all six of her team’s points in the quarter, using an array of post moves.
Then, Abington Heights’ Erin Albright gave her team a boost.
The sophomore forward scored all seven of her points in the second quarter to help the Lady Comets build a 10-point halftime lead. She also finished with a game-high 12 rebounds.
“Erin is like our secret weapon,” Klingman said. “She has been our top rebounder all year and we’re trying to get her a little bit more involved, offensively. She did a great job and tracked down about four balls, which was key, when it was still a 10 or 12-point game.”
Abington Heights had stretched its lead to 13 on a 3-pointer from Kowalski in the final minute of the first half before Pittston’s Alexa Noone hit the first of her three 3-pointers.
Pittston Area (14-10), the No. 4 seed, started the second half on a 5-0 run, capped by a 3-pointer from Noone, and cut Abington Heights’ lead to five with 5:57 left in the third quarter.
Abington Heights responded by scoring the next 10 points and the Lady Patriots never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Kowalski, who missed her first four 3-point shots, made three of her four final shots, including two deep ones during the Lady Comets’ run.
“I was a little bit frustrated, but I knew I had to keep shooting and stay patient,” she said. “When I hit that one 3-pointer (before half), I felt a little bit more comfortable.”
Her second 3-pointer of the third, from about 24-feet, gave Abington Heights a 32-17 lead.
“Hannah Kowalski came to play,” Pittston Area head coach Kathy Healey said. “Great players step up at big times in big games.”
Albright also played a big role in the third quarter by grabbing five rebounds.
“I just wanted to get the boards and win the game,” Albright said. “I really wanted to do it for my team; that was my motivation. “(Coach) told us before the game it was important that we hit the boards tonight. That’s usually my job so I made sure I did it tonight, especially.”
Abington Heights outrebounded Pittston Area, 39-25, in the game.
“They crushed us on the boards,” Healey said. “They just outhustled us to the ball. Our shots weren’t falling and we would only get one shot.”
Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.