Ejections hamper Elizabeth Forward in playoff ouster
Sam Kosanovich stood up.
Mark Ferguson glared.
That's about all it took for Elizabeth Forward's season to come crashing down on top of them during one of the biggest games in school history.
Kosanovich and top assistant Ferguson were assessed technical fouls — it was Ferguson's second of the game — 70 seconds apart and ejected late in the third quarter of Saturday's PIAA Class AAA Western Region semifinal against Palmyra at Chestnut Ridge's Richard W. Fisher Gymnasium.
EF not only was forced to have second-year assistant Krystal Gibbs coach the decisive fourth quarter, but athletic director Dennis Zieger — a former Southmoreland girls coach — had to sit in for the fateful final nine minutes.
The technical fouls directly led to eight points for Palmyra — six free throws and a field goal by keeping possession after the technical — in a 51-44 loss that ended Elizabeth Forward's season in frustrating fashion.
“It is disappointing to have a game decided in that manner,” Kosanovich said. “I apologized to my team. That was very uncharacteristic of my coaching style, and I apologize and take responsibility for that.”
The mild-mannered and low-key Kosanovich, who has been coaching on the high school and college levels for more than 20 years, can't recall ever getting a technical foul let alone getting ejected.
It is highly debatable that Kosanovich or Ferguson's actions toward the District 5 officials warranted a technical foul, especially in a game of that magnitude.
Ferguson was assessed a technical with six seconds left in the first half that turned a 22-21 EF (22-5) lead into a 25-22 deficit heading into halftime.
With Palmyra leading 34-28 with two minutes left in the third, Bucknell recruit Carly Richardson, who scored a game-high 17 points, was fouled in the act of extending the lead to eight points.
The foul was initially called on EF's Natalie Fekula — her fourth of the game — despite the violation clearly being on teammate Kylie Owoc. Because Ferguson received a technical earlier in the game, it forced Kosanovich to be seated for the rest of the game. When the call was made on Fekula, Kosanovich stood up to get clarification and received a technical.
“I just asked for a clarification of a foul,” Kosanovich said. “I am not disappointed in the way they called the game. I am disappointed in the fact a professional referee and a coach can't have communication back and forth and they weren't letting me communicate.
“I need to do that as a coach. I need to ask them who the foul was on and what the call was. I don't have to like what they have to say, but that communication wasn't there.”
A minute later, Ferguson was assessed his second technical foul after another foul call on EF, thus disqualifying both Ferguson and Kosanovich for the rest of the game.
“(The referee) stood there and stared at him, and all Mark said was ‘Come on guys, don't let the officials take you out of the game,' and that's all it took,” Kosanovich said. “This game is for the girls, and it is not a game about officiating.”
Palmyra extended its lead to 42-30 heading into the fourth quarter after Richardson converted the two technicals and Maria Tukis hit a runner at the buzzer.
“He certainly lost his composure, and they can't help but to call it when they say the things they are,” Palmyra coach Ron Berman said. “I am so sorry about all of that.”
The ejections sparked EF. The Warriors scored the first six points of the fourth to make it 42-36 and got within 47-44 with 1:13 left when Owoc hit a shot. But Palmyra, which attempted 19 more free throws than EF, made 4 of 6 foul shots over the final 41 seconds to earn a berth into Wednesday's Western final against Blackhawk.
“I am not going to blame the officials for winning or losing — I never will,” Kosanovich said. “We would've liked to win, but the bad taste is taken away by the effort they put in for 32 minutes. They didn't quit and played hard and kept battling. That's the character of this team.”
EF, which is 64-15 the past three years with nine playoff victories, got 14 points from Olivia Barkley and 12 rebounds and four blocks from Fekula.
“We battled for the entire game and never gave up, and I am proud of them for that,” Kosanovich said. “The officials are not why we lost.”