Carlynton girls claw past Charleroi in WPIAL playoffs
It wasn't hard to tell the Carlynton girls basketball team was nervous during the first quarter of its battle with Charleroi during the WPIAL Class AA preliminary round — the team struggled to find the basket and committed several uncharacteristic turnovers.
“We didn't have butterflies in our stomachs but an entire zoo,” sophomore Jordan Melko said.
But after the first eight minutes, the team settled down and the Cougars clawed their way to a 33-31 win in the WPIAL playoffs. It was their first postseason appearance since 2005.
“This is the first time these kids have been here,” Carlynton coach Tim Bonner said. “There was so much tension. We have been in a lot of close games this year but none that have meant so much.”
Charleroi jumped out to an early 7-2 lead before a Melko layup cut the deficit to three. On the next Charleroi possession, an Amanda Dodd steal led to another Melko basket. Hannah Murray connected on a basket with 15 seconds to go in the quarter before Jordan Swarmer's jumper push Charleroi's lead to 11-8.
Charleroi's Mia Woytovich nailed a 3-pointer to start the second quarter before Carlynton made its move. A Lejla Isak steal and layup cut the deficit to four, and another Isak steal lead to a Melko basket that cut it to two. Melko scored on two straight putbacks to give the Cougars an 18-16 advantage — their first lead of the night — at the 3:31 mark.
A Dodd 3-pointer at the 1:17 mark gave Carlynton a 23-18 lead, its largest of the entire game. The Cougars went into halftime up by three, and their strong showing earned a standing ovation from a large student section.
“It was great to have them come out,” Isak said. “It showed how much they cared. It's like everyone came together as a family.”
Four straight Charleroi points gave it a 24-23 lead early in the third frame. Isak gave her squad the lead with a basket and subsequent foul shot for a 26-24 advantage. Carlynton did not trail the rest of the game.
The Cougars suffered a massive setback when Murray picked up her fourth foul in the third quarter. The junior has been one of Carlytnon's top offensive threats this season, and the coaching turned to a freshman for her replacement.
“That was scary,” Bonner said. “Amanda Martin came in and did a great job as only a freshman. We tried to switch (Martin) in on defense and (Murray) in on offense. We wanted to keep (Murray) off of defense as much as possible.”
Woytovich hit another 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter and tie the score at 27. Melko connected on a jumper with just less than two minutes left in the game to give Carlynton a 33-31 lead.
“I did not think that would be the last basket,” Melko said. “I am glad I made the shot. I started thinking about passing it but put it up because I was open.”
The final 90 seconds saw both teams suffer several turnovers before Charleroi called a timeout with 16 seconds left.
It was able to get the ball to the hoop with several seconds left on the clock but missed. The subsequent battle for the ball saw Dodd grab the rebound to hold on for the win.
The playoff victory was the first for the Cougars since defeating Washington, 36-34, in the 2005 playoffs. Carlynton has struggled to find consistency since then, including having a different coach each of the last four seasons.
Melko said the team wanted to get the win not only for the program but for the three seniors — Dodd, Isak and Rose Doyle — who had not experienced the postseason during their high school careers.
“I was thinking about this game all day,” Isak said. “My stomach was in knots at school. I knew this could be my last game.
“I am just really glad the team came to play.”
Carlynton faced Burrell in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday. Results were unavailable at press time.
Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-388-5813.