IMPERIAL – When point guard Tori Foster attempted to drive around a Beaver defender with less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime – and in a one-point game – the Chartiers-Houston point guard’s left foot grazed the baseline. An official’s quick whistle signaled Chartiers-Houston’s 25th turnover of the WPIAL Class AA preliminary round playoff game.
It was then that Chartiers-Houston’s frustration with Beaver’s rugged and physical defense officially reached the boiling point.
An irked Foster used her left hand to slam the basketball to the court. Another whistle. A technical foul on Foster and two free throws for Beaver that gave the Bobcats a three-point lead with 26 seconds remaining.
The points loomed large at game’s end as defensive-minded Beaver, the Section 6 champion, held off upset-minded Chartiers-Houston, 45-43, in a Class AA girls game at West Allegheny High School.
Beaver (17-4) survived squandering a six-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation and making only one field goal after the third quarter. The Bobcats advanced because of their gritty defense. A old-school style team – one that prefers to bend its knees and play aggressive half-court defense rather than play run-and-gun offense – Beaver took C-H (14-9) out of its offensive rhythm and forced the Bucs to play a grinder of game instead of an up-tempo style.
“They bumped our cutters all night,” said C-H coach Veronica Sansom. “At the end of the first quarter, I told our players we need to match their physicality. We should have been able to do that. We played Seton-La Salle and Bishop Canevin, the best Double-A has to offer, so that style wasn’t new to us.”
But C-H never got going offensively against a young Beaver team that used only seven players, including two sophomores and two freshmen. The Bucs had too many turnovers, too many missed free throws (3-for-11) and too many missed shots from inside of six feet.
“We had a lot of empty possessions,” Sansom said. “(Beaver’s) physicality kept us out of our rhythm on offense. We’re better when we run the court and push the ball. When we’re in a half-court game, we’re not the greatest.”
For much of the game, C-H seemed content to play the half-court style and rely on the drives by Foster to generate offense. Despite all the turnovers, C-H managed to lead 17-15 at halftime and 21-17 early in the third quarter.
The Bucs then went six minutes without a field goal and fell behind 27-22 after three quarters.
“We work hard on defense,” Beaver coach Greg Huston said. “We work at least a half hour each day on defense. It’s something we take pride in. Though we have a young team, the kids have bought into the defense-first philosophy. They’re more concerned about winning games than their offensive statistics.”
Beaver led 32-26 with four minutes left in regulation when C-H tried to force a faster pace, slapping a full-court press on the Bobcats. It worked. Foster stole a pass and made a layup. Ashley Balzer sank a three-pointer, and Kristin Scott stole an inbounds pass and made a short baseline jump shot that pulled the Bucs to within 35-34.
A free throw by Eleanor Neeley gave Beaver a 38-36 lead with 12 seconds left, but Foster worked her way inside the Beaver defense, grabbed her own missed shot and put it in with three seconds remaining, forcing overtime.
C-H took its first lead since the third quarter at 40-39 on a fast-break layup by Amanda Balzer, but Beaver slowed the Bucs the rest of the way. Beaver took a 41-40 lead in the final minute on a free throw by Ashley Kondracki, and the key turnover and technical foul on C-H followed.
Beaver pushed the lead to 45-40 before Amanda Balzer banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer.
“That’s a tough way to lose,” Sansom said.
Lexi Posset, despite a box-and-one defense against her, led Beaver with 17 points. Eleanor Neeley had 11. The Bobcats made only 13 field goals, missed 13 free throws and committed 21 turnovers.
“The third quarter was the key for us,” Huston said. “When you can win the third quarter, it makes the fourth quarter easier, though we tried to make it difficult.”
C-H, which had three players foul out during overtime, received 12 points each from Foster and Ashley Balzer.