MCMURRAY – The Ringgold and West Mifflin girls basketball teams are very familiar with each other. They met twice during the regular season – splitting the series – as part of their Section 4-AAA schedule.
That familiarity led to West Mifflin head coach Scott Stephenson making some adjustments by employing a four-guard lineup and going primarily with a zone defense for the Titans when the teams met for a third time, in the WPIAL quarterfinals, Saturday afternoon at Peters Township High School.
West Mifflin broke open a close game in the second half and advanced with a 44-33 victory.
“They are a tough team to play against,” Stephenson said of Ringgold. “We’ve played them in two tough games and have seen them on a couple other occasions. I just wanted to get us the best matchups, and I thought going small against their guards was the way to go.”
West Mifflin (18-5) broke open a 16-14 game at the half by outscoring Ringgold (13-10) 28-19 in the second half, taking advantage of Ringgold mistakes. The Rams committed 23 turnovers and missed more than 30 shots from close range.
“We wanted to control the tempo,” Stephenson said. “We are better when we feed off our defense. Ideally, we want to force turnovers and get out and run. We did that pretty well. We didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities that our defense created, but our defense helped win that game.”
The Titans started fast, scoring the first six points of the game, but Ringgold answered with a 7-0 run, taking the lead on a layup by Kara Foster, who finished with nine points.
The Rams’ lead was short-lived as West Mifflin put together a 10-2 spurt over an eight-minute span of the first and second quarters. Ringgold closed the first half scoring the final five points to head into the locker room down only 16-14.
The Rams also caught a break when West Mifflin’s Ciara Patterson was called for a technical foul at the end of the first half. Ringgold’s Chanse Barner made one of the two free throws following the technical to start the third quarter, drawing Ringgold to within one point, but that was as close as the Rams would get.
Ringgold had chances but too many turnovers and missed layups plagued the Rams.
“You can’t win games when you miss 30 layups,” said Ringgold head coach Laura Grimm. “We had chances but we missed almost every layup we shot. I don’t think the turnovers hurt us as bad as the layups. We win the game if we make our layups.”
West Mifflin outscored Ringgold 9-3 over the next seven minutes to take a 27-18 lead and control of the game.
Ringgold’s Bailey Cooper made a three-pointer to start the fourth quarter and pull the Rams within 29-25, but West Mifflin put together a game-winning 12-5 run as Ringgold went into its second lengthy scoring drought.
Cooper led Ringgold in scoring with 13 points, connecting on a trio of three-point shots. The Titans were led by Patterson with 13. Taylor Thomas chipped in 11 points for West Mifflin.
While she struggled at the offensive end of the floor, Ringgold’s 6-6 Marlena Schmidt put together a solid effort at the defensive end, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking eight shots. It was the first time all season that Schmidt grabbed more than five rebounds and the Rams lost the game.
“The frustrating part is that we can beat this team,” Grimm said. “We have beaten them and we should have won both games we lost. That makes it very frustrating. But I am very proud of these girls. They have come such a long way. They’ve come way further than anyone would have expected them to.”
Ringgold now becomes West Mifflin’s biggest fan. If West Mifflin can advance to the championship game with a win Wednesday over Blackhawk (21-2) in the semifinals, then Ringgold will be assured of a berth in the PIAA tournament. If Blackhawk wins, then Ringgold’s season will end.