California beats Avella, grabs control of Section 3-A

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CALIFORNIA – The California and Avella high school girls basketball teams have two matchups this season which will likely determine who wins the WPIAL Section 3-A championship.


Round one went to the Trojans.


Behind the strength of a big first half run and tough interior defense, the Trojans opened a big lead and then slowed the game down for a 31-19 Section 3-A victory Thursday night.


“It was a good team effort,” said California head coach Chris Minerd. “Once we got out to a nice lead, I felt confident in slowing the game down. Avella is a tough team and we needed to do whatever it took to come away with a win.”


Freshman Kylie Huffman played a major role for the Trojans (5-0, 11-3) from the opening tip.


Huffman showed her versatility by controlling the pain on the defensive end, finishing the night with a near triple-double.


Huffman scored 11 points, all in the first half, grabbed 12 rebounds and impacted the game in a big way defensively by blocking eight shots.


“Having Kylie in there is big,” said Minerd. “Even when she is not blocking shots, she is changing them and making things difficult for the other team.”


Things started slowly for both teams, but the Trojans took control of the game for good early on as they put together a 17-6 run over the final 12 minutes of the first half to take a 22-10 lead.


The Trojans’ press worked as they were able to force Avella (4-1, 9-5) into turnovers and had success spreading the floor as California knocked down four three-pointers, three coming from Huffman.


“That’s our game,” said Minerd. “We need our press to work and force turnovers and we were able to knock down some shots off that.”


The 12-point halftime lead turned out to be all the Trojans needed as they held Avella to only one point in the third quarter as the Eagles went over 13 minutes without scoring a point.


California took a 29-11 lead into the fourth quarter and held the ball for long stretchs in the final eight minutes.


“Some people may mistake that for stalling, but we were being patient looking for a good shot,” said Minerd. “We start three freshmen and I didn’t want a lot of mistakes that could let Avella back into the game. I was willing to do whatever it took to win the game.”


Avella was led in scoring by senior Kenna Drazieh with nine points. The Eagles struggled to get into a flow offensively without senior point guard Alexandria Barr, who missed the game with a concussion.


“We actually have three seniors out,” said Avella head coach Jim Matalik. “It’s tough because Barr runs our offense, but give California credit. They are a very good team. Hopefully we will learn from this and get better.”


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