Susquehanna made the deepest girls basketball state tournament run in school history, but first the Lady Sabers needed Mackenzie Steele to get them started.
With the Sabers misfiring from long range and Steele sitting with foul trouble, Susquehanna fell into a 14-point, second-quarter hole in the state opener.
The JB Hoops AAU player brought Lady Sabers back for just the second state playoff win in program history. After another win, the 6-foot-1 junior center nearly repeated the comeback effort in the quarterfinal round of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament before Susquehanna’s season finally ended against the defending state champions.
Steele’s 23-point, 9-rebound effort in a 53-40, first-round win over Millville earned her the PNC Bank District 2 Girls Basketball Player of the Week award from NEPABasketball.com for the period ending March 9.
After sitting out the end of the first quarter against Millville, Steele returned to go 10-for-12 from the floor in her next 12½ minutes. She repeatedly made tough catches against increasing defensive attention that evolved from double- to triple-teams.
Once she caught the ball, Steele made the rest look easy, going over the smaller Lady Quakers.
“She’s bigger and stronger and can use her power moves to just go up and finish at the rim,” first-year Susquehanna coach Kirk Fallon said. “It was nice to see her just getting on the right block, getting the ball and going strong to the basket.”
Steele’s 11 points on 3-for-6 foul shooting, then four straight baskets during a 3:37 stretch of the second quarter turned an 18-4 deficit into 20-15. It also made it clear that Susquehanna had the dominant weapon in the matchup between the two teams.
Once Steele got going, she put together a game unlike others in her three-year career as a starter.
“I’ve had bits and pieces in certain games, but not a whole game like this,” said Steele, who scored the tying and go-ahead baskets in the comeback.
Steele’s last basket, while swarmed by three defenders, gave the Lady Sabers a 39-34 advantage with 5:41 left.
With Steele out of the game, Millville outscored Susquehanna 13-2 in 5:09.
When Steele was on the court, the Lady Sabers outscored the Lady Quakers 51-27 for 27:51, including, 48-19 for the 21:06 after re-entering the game to begin the second.
Steele also led Susquehanna from an 11-point deficit to within one in the final minute of the season-ending, 47-42 loss to Jenkintown. She had 10 of her 21 points in the final 5:30.
“Steele was terrific,” said Fallon, a former JB Hoops player. “We tried to get it into her as much as possible.
“The girl has a giant heart. She doesn’t quit. She wants the ball.”
On the season, Steele’s third as a starter, she was Susquehanna’s leading rebounder and shot blocker as well as the second-leading scorer. She shot 46 percent from the floor and 58 percent from the line while averaging 12.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.9 blocked shots, 2.1 steals and 0.9 assists.