BALDWIN – California girls basketball head coach Chris Minerd’s team did everything he asked of them in the first quarter of Wednesday’s Class A semifinal game against Serra Catholic.
The Trojans limited turnovers, escaped Serra Catholic’s half court press and found freshman Kylie Huffman under the basket for seven early points. California held a nine-point lead after the first eight minutes and the young lineup seemed to be handling the Eagles’ experience well.
It all changed over the next 24 minutes. California did not hit a field goal in the second quarter, was outscored in the third and allowed Serra Catholic a 13-2 run to begin the fourth as the Eagles’ defeated the Trojans, 60-40, at Baldwin High School.
Serra Catholic (23-2) advances to the WPIAL Class A title where it will face top-seeded Vincentian Saturday for the second year in a row.
Holding a four-point lead at the end of the third quarter, Serra Catholic’s offense over the final eight minutes came in the form of two sisters – Katie and Megan Sieg. The two combined for 13 of the Eagles’ 25 fourth quarter points. Megan, a senior guard, finished with a team-high 16 points and Katie, a junior guard, added 12.
“In the second half, we started knocking down shots, played better defense, and we started getting the hustle plays that weren’t there in the first half,” Serra Catholic head coach Bill Cleary said. “It still seemed like things were going their way. We didn’t meet their fire and their intensity in that first quarter. They were ready to play, and we knew they would be.”
California was still hitting uncontested shots and Huffman, who finished with a team-high 14 points, grabbed rebounds, but the Trojans could not keep up with the Eagles’ speedy transition offense. Attempting to catch up to the competition led to untimely fouls and Serra Catholic capitalized by hitting eight of nine free throws in the final eight minutes to clinch the win.
“Any nerves should have been out the window after that first quarter,” Minerd said. “We didn’t have enough tonight. That second quarter really hurt us, and our defense let us down. We kept putting them on the foul line, and they’re too good of a team to do that against.”
Entering the game, California (19-4) wanted to avoid the Eagles’ high-pressure defense that has allowed a Class A-low average of 30.3 points per game. Minerd hoped the young Trojans’ lineup overcame any type of nerves early and felt encouraged with a 15-6 lead at the end of the first quarter. That’s when California failed to make a field goal in a 10-minute span. They hit just two of four free throws in the second quarter and attempting to avoid the overwhelming pressure of the Eagles’ guard play led to unforced turnovers.
The Trojans came alive in the third quarter by stretching the Eagles’ press defense and back-to-back three-point shots by senior Tristen Conaway and junior Brooke Clements drew California to within three points with just under two minutes remaining in the third quarter. The two teams exchanged free throws until the Sieg sisters took over.
The loss ends California’s bid for its first WPIAL championship game appearance in program history. Though a trip to the Duquesne University Palumbo Center will not occur, the Trojans clinched a spot in the PIAA playoffs. While the loss was a discouraging one, Minerd is pleased with his team’s progress this season.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed, but nothing can take away the season we’ve had,” Minerd said. “I couldn’t be happier with these girls and what they have accomplished. We just didn’t play good enough to win.”