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Thomas Jefferson girls upset West Mifflin in section battle

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 11:02 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson's Jesse Hinkle goes for the lay up during game action against West Mifflin on Monday, January, 14, 2013 at Thomas Jefferson High School. Ronald Vezzani/Daily News

It was fitting that the West Mifflin girls basketball team barely got back onto the court from its locker room in time for the start of the second half against rival Thomas Jefferson.

That's because West Mifflin barely showed up for the final two quarters of Monday's Section 4-AAA game, and Thomas Jefferson made the Lady Titans pay for it.

Thomas Jefferson outscored visiting West Mifflin, 25-14, over the final 11 minutes including 20-7 over the last six minutes to knock the Lady Titans out of first place in the section with a 50-43 victory.

“We are getting better and better every night,” Thomas Jefferson first-year coach Dom DiMattia said. “We are finally learning some of the system I had when I was in South Park back in the late '90s.”

The victory was Thomas Jefferson's third consecutive and moved the Lady Jaguars (6-6, 3-3) into a fourth-place tie with Ringgold (6-8, 3-3) for the final playoff spot.

Meanwhile, West Mifflin (5-7, 4-1) fell a game behind Section 4-AAA front-running Elizabeth Forward (12-1, 5-0), a 55-49 winner over Belle Vernon (8-4, 4-2).

“We are back in the playoff picture, but we still have a long way to go,” DiMattia said. “We needed this one to stay in the picture.”

Thomas Jefferson got 21 points from junior guard Alexis Yanief, including 11 in the fourth quarter, while senior forward Jesse Hinkle contributed 17 points and 12 rebounds.

West Mifflin was paced by Alyssa Cairns' 16 points and eight each by Paige Flore and Taylor Thomas. Thomas grabbed 12 rebounds, but was held scoreless in the second half before fouling out with 1:38 left.

Both teams found it tough to score in the first half, mostly because they were turning the ball over. Both teams turned it over 11 times in the opening half.

Much of the same continued in the third quarter. Despite turning the ball over nine times, attempting seven shots from the floor and scoring three points, TJ trailed only by six at 33-27 heading into the final quarter.

It was a quarter that TJ would dominate.

“We switched up defense a little bit,” DiMattia said. “I call it the junky 1-3-1. It isn't the normal 1-3-1. I do a couple things different, and it seemed to work.”

TJ went on a 9-0 run to turn a six-point deficit into a three-point lead with just more than three minutes left.

“They were missing a lot of shots,” DiMattia said. “They score a lot of points underneath and we started to get some rebounds. They are a lot bigger than us, but we rebounded well.”

West Mifflin tied it on a steal and layup by Cairns with 2:29 left, but TJ would answer in a big way.

Yanief drove through the lane for two to make it 41-39 before putting the game away at the foul line.

The Lady Jaguars hit 9 of 10 foul shots over the final 98 seconds to come away with the upset.

“That was the key,” DiMattia said. “We had to make the foul shots because you knew they were going to foul. This was a good win — a win that we needed.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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