Serra girls overcome slow start to rout Jefferson-Morgan
Jefferson-Morgan gave Serra Catholic all it wanted during Wednesday's Class A first-round playoff game ... for about five minutes.
No. 2 Serra worked through a sluggish start before going on for a convincing 85-45 win over Jefferson-Morgan at Peters Township. Serra trailed midway through the first quarter against a team it beat by 43 points two months ago.
“I was concerned, sure,” said veteran Serra coach Bill Cleary, who won his 521st career game. “Let's face it: we lost in the first round last year to Cornell, and I didn't want to go down the road again. To their credit, they were ready to play.”
Serra (21-2) advanced to Saturday's quarterfinal game against Rochester, a 47-36 winner over Monessen. The Eagles have lost their past five quarterfinal games and haven't advanced past that round since their WPIAL runner-up year of 2006.
Cleary doesn't want to look ahead too much to a possible return trip to the title game but knows it is very much attainable this year.
“We are playing Rochester on Saturday, and that is our focus right now,” Cleary said. “We are one step closer. Sure I want to get back to Palumbo, but we are going to take it one game at a time.”
Nine different players scored for Serra led by Megan Sieg's 18, Katie Sieg's 15 and Lindsay Muschar's 11 and 10 rebounds.
Kayla Yorko paced Jefferson-Morgan (10-14) with 16, and Jessica Taylor had 11.
“They have a good team, and they are tough when they can run all those numbers at you,” Jefferson-Morgan coach Ellen Hildebrand said. “They have the numbers in order to wear us down. But you can't take anything away from my kids.”
Especially early in the game.
Jefferson-Morgan took a 7-4 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter even though the Rockets were turning the ball over at an alarming rate. J-M had nearly twice as many turnovers (11) in the first quarter as it did field goal attempts (7). Jefferson-Morgan turned it over 34 times in the game.
“We really didn't come out with a lot of full-court pressure after the first quarter,” Cleary said. “We trapped them in the half court, and that made them rush their shots. We did miss a couple layups that got us off to a rocky start, but we knew that we would eventually make some shots because we were getting good looks early but just not making them.”
Serra outscored Jefferson-Morgan, 29-7, over the final 11:06 of the first half to take a 34-14 lead into the locker room. The Eagles did most of their damage at the foul line during the run, scoring 17 points that also compounded problems for Jefferson-Morgan.
Four Rockets had four fouls in the first half, and the team dressed only eight players.
“When we get into foul trouble and start to reach down our bench and have to move people around is when we get into trouble,” Hildebrand said.
Megan Sieg put the game away early in the second half by scoring Serra's first seven points to extend the lead to 39-18. Serra led, 60-30, by the end of the third.
Still, Cleary knows that if his team is to get back to the title game for the first time in seven years, it can't afford another slow start — especially against more accomplished teams.
“That's exactly what I told them that at the quarter break. I told them that at halftime, and we reminded them that at the end of the game,” Cleary said. “We can't start like this anymore or we will be going home.”