Lovelace reaches 1,500 points, leads Leechburg girls to tournament victory

Saturday, December 9, 2017 | 9:57 PM

It seems Mikayla Lovelace saves her biggest milestones for games against Kiski Area.

Less than 12 months after the Leechburg senior standout reached the 1,000-point plateau against the neighboring Cavaliers, she reached the 1,500 mark with a big game as the host Blue Devils held off Kiski Area, 58-49, in the championship game of the Leechburg tournament.

Lovelace scored a game-high 33 points, including 12 in the pivotal third quarter to help the Blue Devils take control. The IUP recruit has 1,505 career points.

“It's amazing,” said Lovelace, named the tournament's MVP. “It's definitely been a goal everyone wants when they're younger, so I'm really happy I got to achieve this. The first year was a little rough for us as a team, but we're improving throughout our careers. So I'm really happy I got to do this, and our team is improving throughout the years.”

Class 2A No. 4 Leechburg, which got 14 points and four 3-pointers from senior Cameron Davies, won its tip-off tournament for the first time after falling short in the championship game last season.

The Blue Devils, coming off a season in which they won WPIAL and PIAA playoff games for the first time in school history, overcame a strong effort from improving Kiski Area. The game saw five ties and 10 lead changes before Leechburg took control with a 9-0 run in the third quarter.

“The kids had a chip on their shoulder: They wanted it,” Leechburg coach Joel Ceraso said. “It was a tough test.

“I love the job that (Kiski Area coach Nick Ionadi) is doing. I love his work and what he's done with those girls. Those girls are tough, and they don't back down.”

Ceraso knows more than most the challenges that faced Ionadi, as he dealt with a similar situation when he took over at Leechburg. The Blue Devils won a total of a dozen games between 2006-14 before showing constant improvement once their current senior class — starters Lovelace, Davies, Makenzie Fello, Daesha Knight and Brittany Robilio and reserve Hannah Berry — came in as freshmen. Leechburg advanced to the WPIAL playoffs each of the past two seasons.

Kiski Area, seeking its first postseason appearance since 2011, is building around a core of sophomores including Harley Holloway, who scored 20 points Saturday, and Hannah Potter.

“That's a state playoff team right there,” Ionadi said. “In reality, if you take Leechburg and stick them in our section, they're making the playoffs. I think they're as good as anybody in our 5A section. For us, it's a measuring stick.

“… I told our girls if we can run with them, we can run with anybody.”

Holloway's hot shooting — she hit four 3-pointers — and junior Dara Zelonka's work down low helped Kiski Area take a one-point lead after the first quarter. With starters Katelyn Brown and Violeta Kenzevich dealing with foul trouble, Zelonka scored 15 points off the bench for the Cavaliers (1-1).

Leechburg rebounded to take a 32-28 lead into halftime, and after an early Kiski Area run in the third quarter put the Cavaliers back ahead, Leechburg responded again. Two Lovelace free throws gave the Blue Devils the lead for good, and she reached the 1,500-point mark on a steal and score just less than two minutes into the fourth quarter.

“Our half-court defense overall I thought was pretty good tonight,” Ionadi said. “But with her it's tough because she's just such a good athlete.”

Kiski Area and Leechburg play again in January. Though it might be difficult for Lovelace to near 2,000 points before then, she'll accept the Blue Devils' strong start.

“This is just an extra start to our season that we hope we can continue to go and win as many games as we can,” Lovelace said.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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