California girls get defensive, playoff victory
California High School freshman Kylie Huffman, shown in this file photo, finished with eight points, 12 rebounds and seven blocked shots as the Trojans defeated Cornell in the WPIAL Class A playoffs Saturday afternoon.
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ELIZABETH – It wasn’t pretty, but the California High School girls basketball team accomplished something Saturday it hadn’t done since 1993.
The Trojans won a WPIAL playoff game.
California used a solid defensive effort and some clutch free-throw shooting to defeat Cornell, 38-25, in the first round of the Class A playoffs at Elizabeth Forward High School.
“A win is a win at this time of year,” said California head coach Chris Minerd. “I told the team before the game that no matter what happened, this wasn’t the end, but the beginning of good things to come. We won the section before anyone probably thought we could, and now we have that first playoff win under our belt. The goal now is to advance deeper.”
For the opportunity to advance, Cal (18-3) can thank its defense.
Both teams struggled offensively throughout the game, but California was able to force the Indians into long scoring droughts on several occasions, which played big in a low-scoring game.
Cornell (12-11) went the first five minutes of the game without scoring a point while California held only a 4-0 lead.
“We rely on our defense,” said Minerd. “We have all season long. We want to play in your face and force turnovers so we can get out and run. The offense wasn’t there for us but we were able to get stops.”
The Trojans led 14-9 at halftime but were able to take control of the game by shutting out the Raiders in the third quarter.
California scored only six points in the third, but a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter seemed almost insurmountable in a defensive-oriented game.
“The third quarter has been our best quarter all season,” Minerd said. “Not so much offensively, but we have really been able to shut teams down. I thought we would be a little nervous on the offensive end early with so many young players, but we were patient with the ball in the second half and made some plays when we had to.”
A big part of the Trojans’ struggles at the offensive end resulted from not being able to create shots for leading scorer Kylie Huffman. While Huffman had only eight points, she didn’t let that hurt her play on the defensive end. She grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked seven shots.
“That’s the great thing about Kylie,” said Minerd. “She can impact the game at both ends of the floor. While the offense didn’t come easy for her, she did some great things defensively.”
Jenna Miller, who made seven clutch free throws in the fourth quarter, led the Trojans in scoring with nine points. Tristen Conaway had eight.
Cornell was led in scoring by Rebecca Robinson with eight points.
The California boys team didn’t experience the same good fortune in their Class AA preliminary round game against Apollo-Ridge, falling to the Vikings, 52-38.
After trailing 11-2 in the opening minutes of the game, California (10-13) responded with an 11-2 run to tie the score at 13 at the end of the first quarter. The Trojans had success slowing down Apollo-Ridge with a zone defense in the second quarter and eventually took a 19-18 halftime lead.
But the Vikings opened the third quarter with a 24-3 run.
California’s zone worked early, but the Vikings were able to beat it by penetrating and kicking the ball out to get open shots on the perimeter, something they didn’t get in the first half.
A-R forward Alex Smith made back-to-back three-pointers and scored 11 points in the third quarter to spark the Vikings (19-3), who outscored California 28-6 in the pivotal quarter.
“I’m extremely proud of my team,” said California head coach Bruno Pappasergi. “We came out with a good game plan and we executed it. But once they started knocking down threes, they were able to create driving lanes. We couldn’t match them athletically. They were just a much better team.”