The California girls basketball team trailed 41-36 last Saturday with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter in their Class A quarterfinal matchup with North Catholic.
The Trojans, who had won 12 consecutive games, featured a lineup with four freshmen and just one senior. North Catholic seemed to be a lock to clinch a spot in the semifinals.
California, however, had other plans.
The Trojans outscored North Catholic 9-2 in the final 70 seconds to pull-off the 45-43 upset at Peters Township.
The Trojans (19-3) found themselves trailing after forcing passes to freshman forward Kylie Huffman, the team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game.
The forced passes resulted in turnovers and points in transition by North Catholic. California head coach Chris Minerd called a timeout and told his players to have confidence in themselves.
His team responded with a spurt of inspired basketball. The win advanced California to the WPIAL semifinals, where they will face second-seeded Serra Catholic (22-2) tonight at Baldwin High School. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.
With Huffman blanketed, freshman Jenna Miller and senior Tristen Conaway combined for 32 points to help California to its first WPIAL semifinal appearance and a spot in the PIAA tournament.
“Most teams would just fall at that point and they didn’t,” Minerd said. “That was a big step for them in their maturity and just getting them to believe that anything is possible. I definitely learned to have a little more confidence in them and not because I didn’t believe, but because of how young they are. I certainly didn’t expect this to happen so soon with them.”
Minerd also coaches the middle school’s girls team, where he began working with Miller and Huffman. The Trojans’ freshmen are not unfamiliar with success. During their middle school careers, they went 32-2.
“I thought about this moment maybe a year or two from now,” Minerd said. “For it to happen when they’re freshmen, I’m just blown away. Not that I don’t have confidence in them, but I know what it takes to win in the playoffs.”
California will not surprise Serra Catholic, which defeated Aliquippa 65-16 on Saturday to earn the semifinal appearance. The Eagles play a high-pressure, man-to-man defense in an attmept to force the opposing guards into errors. Led by senior guard Danielle Dindak, who averages a team-high 13.9 points per game, the No. 2 Eagles average a Class A-best 65.4 points per game and allow just 30.3 per game.
“Nobody expected us to beat North Catholic, and that was a signature win for the program,” Minerd said. “That was the win I’ve been waiting for since I came to California, because we always hear that ‘Your section is not that good, you don’t have a tough schedule.’ It’s been a great season, we won the section and it just keeps getting better every week. No matter what happens this week, we’re not done.”
Despite losing its WPIAL playoff quarterfinal game against Burrell, the McGuffey girls (20-4) clinched a spot in the PIAA Class AA playoffs Tuesday with the Bucs’ 51-47 victory over Greensburg Central Catholic. Now, the only question remaining is if the Highlanders will be the WPIAL’s fifth seed – if Burrell wins the WPIAL championship – or sixth seed – if the Bucs lose.
Two other local teams also could get into the PIAA playoffs.
Trinity (17-7), which lost to South Park on Saturday in the Class AAA playoffs, can get in if the Eagles (20-4) advance to the WPIAL title game with a win over Elizabeth Forward. Also, Ringgold will get an invite if West Mifflin defeats top-seeded Blackhawk tonight.
Baseball/softball season approaching
As the high school basketball season is quickly drawing to a close, baseball and softball are right around the corner. Ringgold’s softball team will officially begin the season for local schools when it travels to Upper St. Clair on March 18 for a non-section game at 4 p.m.