West Mifflin win sets up Section 4-AAA showdown
Lance Maha is a social studies teacher at West Mifflin, but ask any one of his basketball players, and they would swear he has some sort of motivational speaker background.
It wasn't more than minutes after West Mifflin lost at Thomas Jefferson a little more than two weeks ago that Maha started to preach to his team.
“We talked before every game that the only way to reach our goal of a section championship because we lost to TJ was to win,” Maha said. “It was as simple as that: win.”
Lo and behold, 17 days later, West Mifflin is right where Maha promised it would be.
Derrick Fulmore scored a career-high 19 points, including nine in the decisive fourth quarter, as the Titans (15-3, 10-1) won their seventh straight game with 63-52 victory at Steel Valley to set up a showdown for the Section 4-AAA championship Friday at home against Thomas Jefferson (14-6, 10-0).
“We kept winning, so we put ourselves in a real nice situation now,” Maha said.
Cleve Randolph added 14 points and 11 rebounds, and Cye Murphy had 13 points and 10 rebounds as the Titans put four players in double figures. Leading scorer Ryan Maha chipped in with 14 points but was only 5 of 13 from the floor.
“We played a team game tonight,” Randolph said. “This was a tough game, and I am glad we came out on top, and now it's on to TJ.”
Steel Valley got a game-high 21 points from Dorian Broadwater while Ajan Smith added 13, but the Ironmen's top scorer also struggled from the floor making only 5 of 16 shots.
Still, Steel Valley coach Shawn McCallister liked when he saw
“I thought we were a deer in the headlights when we played them away, but our kids came to play basketball today,” McCallister said. “We had opportunities but just couldn't finish them.”
Meanwhile, West Mifflin had no such problems, and especially beating Steel Valley's junk defense.
McCallister was comfortable playing a box-and-one on Ryan Maha and taking his chances allowing West Mifflin to drive to the basket especially with 6-foot-8 Tyler Lewis and 6-5 Dom Keyes patrolling the paint.
“Believe me, that right there concerned me,” Lance Maha said.
As it turned out, Maha had nothing to worry about.
Randolph outscored and outrebounded both young and inexperienced Steel Valley big men by himself, and Murphy and Fulmore got plenty of dribble penetration that resulted in easy points.
“We wanted to go down inside,” Lance Maha said. “If they wanted to chase and go box-and-one, we wanted to go inside because we would be playing one-on-one down there. I think we did a great job of making them pay playing a box-and-one on us.”
McCallister felt it was a gamble he had to take.
“We tried putting both of our big kids inside,” McCallister said. “Unfortunately, in my opinion, we didn't play aggressive enough.”
West Mifflin was able to lead for the majority of the game but was never able to pull away. The Titans led by as many as nine points on a couple of occasions in the second half before Steel Valley made a run.
A Broadwater 3-pointer followed by a Kevin Ducar jumper midway through the fourth got Steel Valley within 48-44.
Fulmore took over from there. The senior outscored Steel Valley by himself (9-8) over the final four minutes with a couple of running one-handers that either resulted in buckets or sent him to the line.
“He doesn't score a lot, but down the stretch, he made the plays for us,” Maha said. “He made some foul shots, he got to the rim, and when they had to chase out and the middle of the floor parted like the Red Sea, he made a couple of nice passes, too.”
While West Mifflin will be playing for a section title Friday, Steel Valley (11-7, 5-5) likely will be hosting East Allegheny with a playoff spot on the line barring an EA loss to 2-16 Belle Vernon on Tuesday.
“We don't have to rely on anybody else to get it done,” McCallister said. “We beat them next week, and we are in, and that's all we can ask for right now.”