CORAOPOLIS – The turnovers, fouls and whistles came faster than the baskets.
And that was bad news for an experienced and senior-laden Avella girls basketball team Wednesday night.
Avella wanted to play a disciplined and half-court game against younger and quicker Aliquippa in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs. Instead, the Eagles found themselves locked in an up-and-down, foul- and turnover-filled affair that often appeared out of control.
For three quarters, Avella was able to navigate the rugged and sluggish play, building a 10-point lead. Over the final eight minutes, however, the Eagles crashed, falling victim to too many turnovers, too many missed free throws and one frantic comeback by the Quips.
Aliquippa outscored Avella 18-7 in the fourth quarter and upset the Eagles, 49-48, at Moon High School.
The game wasn’t decided until an eight-foot bank shot from the side of the lane by Avella’s Victoria Lloyd fell off the rim with one second remaining. The shot came after Aliquippa’s Rashanique Lowe missed six consecutive free throws in the final 55 seconds.
“That was crazy,” said Aliquippa coach Mark D’Alessandris, whose team advanced to the quarterfinals despite committing 39 turnovers and making only six of 23 free throws.
Aliquippa won because it forced Avella into 37 turnovers and held the Eagles to only three field goals in the fourth quarter. The Quips trailed 41-31 after three quarters, then went on an 11-2 run to pull to within 43-42 with 5:08 remaining.
Avella had 12 turnovers in the fourth quarter and missed five of six free throws, giving Aliquippa a window for a comeback.
“It’s sad. It’s sad for our players,” said Avella coach Jim Matalik, whose team finished the season with a 15-8 record. “We tried to run some offense and make them play defense against us, but they stole the ball. We weren’t coming to the ball to catch it. They were more aggressive than us. They were able to get steals for easy baskets, so give them credit.”
Aliquippa finally took the lead for good at 48-47 on a fast-break layup by Destiny Henry with 1:40 left. Alexus Perry, who made two clutch three-pointers in the Quips’ second-half charge, added a free throw to give Aliquippa a two-lead.
While Lowe kept missing free throws down the stretch, Avella couldn’t take advantage. Kenna Drazich, who led Avella with 14 points, made one of two free throws with 16.5 seconds to play, trimming the gap to 49-48. The Eagles the final shot after Lowe missed twice with 11 seconds remaining.
We knew that the only thing that could hurt us was if the officials let a lot of contact happen, which they did. …. We were the better team,” Matalik said.
Laura Craig played a solid game for Avella and finished with 11 points, including nine in the second quarter when the Eagles outscored Aliquippa 18-9. Kira Doaks had 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Perry led Aliquippa with 13 points and Queenisa Gilbet had 12 before fouling out.
“We knew that the only thing that could hurt us was if the officials let a lot of contact happen, which they did. … We were the better team,” Matalik said.