West Mifflin ponders late breakdowns in PIAA playoff loss
Within a span of just over a minute in the fourth quarter and during the most critical point of Saturday's PIAA Class AAA first-round playoff game against Villa Maria Academy, West Mifflin's top stars — Ciara Patterson and Taylor Thomas — picked up fouls and had no choice but to sit on the bench while clinging to a slim lead.
However, instead of losing its lead for the first time all day, West Mifflin was able to expand its advantage while its top two scorers were on the bench.
Basketball is funny like that.
But what happened over the final two minutes was nothing to smile at for West Mifflin.
Villa Maria scored the final 12 points of the game, including a four-point play by Lindsey Mifsud with 68 seconds left, and the Victors went on to end West Mifflin's season with a 42-35 win at Penn Hills.
West Mifflin (18-7) managed only 26 points and seven field goals over the final 26:34 of the game. The Titans, who came into the game averaging nearly 60 points per game, were held to their fewest points this season.
“We just didn't get it done,” West Mifflin coach Scott Stephenson said. “We just couldn't finish. I have no answer for what happened down the stretch.”
Mifsud paced Villa Maria with 10 points while West Mifflin got nine from Jiahna Flood-Francis and 14 rebounds from Alyssa Cairns.
Patterson (eight) and Thomas (five) combined for only 13 points in their final game.
“It wasn't pretty, that's for sure,” Stephenson said.
It was kind of ugly for West Mifflin, especially after Thomas seemingly put the game away with a layup off a missed 3-pointer with 2:54 left that gave the Titans a 35-30 lead.
Instead, it would be the last points West Mifflin would score.
“The kids just believed in themselves,” Villa Maria coach Doug Chuzie said. “We have a senior core that believes if we keep having good possessions that good things will eventually happen. My heart does break for those kids from West Mifflin. It's always tough to lose a game like this.”
It was Villa Maria's defense that shined bright over the final few minutes.
The Victors (21-3) forced 13 fourth-quarter turnovers, including seven in the final four minutes. West Mifflin turned the ball over almost as many times (28) as it attempted shots from the floor (33).
“We've seen better pressure than that,” Stephenson said. “I don't know why it bothered us because we have faced much better than that. We just had a lot of breakdowns.”
There was no bigger breakdown than with just over a minute left with West Mifflin clinging to a 35-34 lead.
Mifsud — who was 1 of 8 from 3-point range until that point — got open in the corner in front of Villa Maria's bench. She hit the 3-pointer and was fouled by Deilona Devaughn to give Villa Maria its first lead of the game.
“Big players make big shots in big games,” Chuzie said. “I had the confidence to go to her, and she stepped up and knocked it down.”
West Mifflin had another chance following yet another turnover when Shanice Morris missed both foul shots in a 38-35 game.
However, Deja Young corralled the rebound to keep possession with Villa Maria. The Victors converted their final four foul shots over the last 30 seconds to advance to Wednesday's second-round game against WPIAL champion Blackhawk (24-2), a 51-34 winner over Mercyhurst Prep.
“We got away from what we like to do,” Stephenson said. “Maybe we held the ball too long, but we had girls open under the hoop. We didn't get to the foul line enough. We settled for a lot of jump shots at critical times when we should've been taking it to the hoop. This one hurts a lot.”