Lady Trojans advance to WPIAL quarterfinals
Regardless of the sport, any coach will say that defense wins championships.
That said, nobody is saying that the California girls' basketball team is going to win a WPIAL championship this season. But one thing is certain: the lady Trojans do know how to play defense.
And because of that, California (18-3) will still be playing after the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs after the Lady Trojans defeated Cornell, 38-25, in a first round game Saturday at Elizabeth Forward.
As a result, California will face Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic (16-7) in the quarterfinals Wednesday. The site and time of the game has yet to be announced.
Against Cornell (12-11), the Lady Trojans held the losers to just nine points through three quarters and pitched a shutout in the third period.
“Defense is very important to us and we pride ourselves in playing it as hard as possible,” said California coach Chris Minerd. “The third quarter has been a good one for us all season for some reason and we have held a few teams to single digits or zero points in a quarter this season.
“Offensively, we weren't at our best. But even when you aren't scoring you can still play defense.”
California wasn't at its best offensively as the Lady Trojans failed to get a player in double figures. Jenna Miller led the way with nine points while Tristen Conaway and Kylie Huffman had eight points each. Huffman also had 11 rebounds and blocked seven shots.
The playoff victory was the first for the Lady Trojans since 1993 and Minerd said he was proud to earn a postseason win with such a young team. California has just one senior – Conaway – on the roster.
“I told the girls coming in that no matter what happens (Saturday), this is not the end of the journey. It's only the beginning,” he said. “Our best basketball is definitely ahead of us. But it's nice to get a playoff win. It feels real good.”
California not only held Cornell scoreless in the third quarter, but the Lady Raiders also failed to tally a point the final 4:47 of the second quarter.
“I think we had some playoff jitters early on and we also missed some easy shots,” Minerd said. “But we never quit working on defense. As long as you work on defense, anything is possible.”
Apollo-Ridge 52,California 38
For the first half of Saturday's Class AA first-round contest, the Trojans did everything they had to do to beat the Vikings.
They controlled the tempo and packed their zone in, daring A-R to shoot 3-pointers.
California (10-13) took a 19-18 lead into halftime. However, the Vikings (19-3) started to hit those 3-pointers in the third quarter and pulled away for the win.
A-R hit four treys and stretched California's defense in the third quarter and outscored the Trojans 28-6 in the quarter to take a commanding 46-25 lead into the fourth quarter.
“I told our kids in the second they gotta be ready because they were going to come at us with guns blazing in the second half,” California coach Bruno Pappasergi said. “And they did. Their athletes showed up in the second half and there wasn't much we could do.”
Alex Smith scored 11 of his 13 points in the third quarter and hit three 3-pointers and Trey Tipton had six of his 10 in the big quarter.
A-R, which averages 63 points per game, couldn't get its offense going in the first half as California dictated the pace and seemed to frustrate the talented Vikings.
“We did what we needed to do in the first half,” Pappasergi said. “But that's a talented team over there with a lot of ability.
“When we had to change our game plan a little bit in the second half because we got behind, it showed what kind of athletes they have,” Pappasergi said. “They are a good team.”
California was led by Austin Wingo with eight points while Kass Taylor scored all seven of his points in the second half.
Pappasergi, who took over as head coach early in the season after Steve Luko stepped down due to health reasons, said he was proud of how the team played for him all season.
“I've coached 38 years and this team here is one of the most memorable teams I will ever have had,” Pappasergi said in an emotional voice. “Not because of my first year as a head coach, but because of all the adversity we faced. These kids played and they played hard. They listened to what we tried to teach them in a short period of time. I can't be more proud of my kids. I love this squad to death.”
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (724) 684-2666.