By JIM FLICK
MINERAL RIDGE — The Ursuline girls basketball squad defeated top-seeded Springfield 45-32 on Thursday night in the Division III sectional tournament at Mineral Ridge High School.
The Fighting Irish will square off against United at 6 p.m. next Thursday in a district semifinal.
United earned its way by defeating Lisbon 52-38 in Thursday’s second game.
Ursuline (11-9) was led Thursday by Auriell Irizarry, who scored 18 points, including 13 in the second half. Jasmine Brown contributed seven points for the Irish, while Dominique Jenkins and Courtney Powell each added six points.
Andria Lyons scored 13 to lead Springfield (17-4).
But just as important as their scoring was the Irish players’ rebounding. Irizarry, Jenkins, and Powell were the game’s top rebounders as the Irish dominated the boards.
The Irish pulled down missed shot after missed shot, their red-hot offensive rebounding making up for the team’s poor shooting. Ursuline’s strong defensive rebounding meant the Springfield rarely had a second chance after missing a shot.
Ursuline connected only 18 of 53 shots Thursday, including 11 of 39 in the first half. Often, the Irish pulled down two or three rebounds during a single trip down the court, scoring a basket on their third and fourth shot.
“We certainly had a poor night shooting,” admitted Ursuline coach Sean Durkin. But he praised his team’s rebounding, saying it was the key to the Irish victory.
Irizarry, he added, “took over in the second half.”
At the start of Thursday night’s game, Springfield held an early 4-0 lead before the Irish put their first points on the board. The game stayed close early, as Ursuline missed eight of its first nine shots from the field.
But Ursuline’s tenacious defense also slowed Springfield’s offense, allowing the Irish to take control of the game. Ursuline scored 10 unanswered points, holding a 10-4 lead after Dominique Jenkins connected on a short jumper.
The first quarter ended with Ursuline in front 15-5, even though the Irish sank only 6 of 18 shots from the field. But thanks to tough Irish defense, the Tigers connected only 2 of 7 shots during the game’s first stanza.
The teams played almost even in the second quarter, with Ursuline outscoring Springfield only 11-10 in the quarter but holding a 26-14 lead at halftime.
The Irish came alive in the third quarter, with Powell, Whitehead and Irizarry putting points on the board to put Ursuline in front 32-16.
Harrison sank a short jumper near the end of the third quarter to put the Irish in front 41-22. The 19-point lead was Ursuline’s biggest lead of the night.
Ursuline played slow, deliberate basketball in the fourth quarter, scoring only two points. But the Irish continued their determined defense, giving up only eight points in the quarter.
Springfield coach Sandi Kohler praised Ursuline’s strong defensive play and emphasized the Irish were simply the faster team.
“We thought we didn’t have the speed to play at their pace,” Kohler said.
Ursuline’s team speed creates ball pressure which “forces you to play faster than you want,” and forces mistakes, she added.
Kohler pointed out that while Ursuline’s record coming into the game was barely above .500, the Irish had played much of their schedule against larger schools, which left them well-prepared for the Division III level of play.
In the nightcap, United and Lisbon played almost even for most of the game. United led only 31-27 after three quarters.
But the Golden Eagles outscored the Blue Devils 21-11 in the final stanza to advance.
Crystal Richard and Ruth Prosko each scored 15 points to lead United to victory. Both Mindy Jackson and Abbey Brammer scored 12 points for Lisbon.
“I told them to pick up the tempo in the second half, and they did,” said United coach Roger Zeigler. “That’s our game. And they shot well from the free throw line.”
United sank 14 of 24 shots from the charity stripe.
Looking ahead to next week’s game, a rematch of last year’s district championship contest, Zeigler simply promised “we’ll play our game.”
United won the game a year ago, 45-40.