By John Kovach
What a difference a year makes.
Last year in the girls Division III district basketball tournament, Ursuline High was ousted by United in the championship game.
This year in a district semifinal, the Irish dominated the boards, got off more shots and ran the court to score more points to eliminate the Eagles this time around, 46-25, at the Mineral Ridge High gym in Thursday night’s opener.
Ursuline (12-9) advanced to the district final Saturday at 2 p.m. against Campbell Memorial (18-3), which rallied in the last quarter to break open a close game and dispose of South Range, 52-39, in Thursday’s semifinal nightcap.
“[Ursuline’s] rebounding hurt us. We couldn’t rebound with them,” admitted United (18-5) coach Roger Zeigler.
“Their quickness also hurt us. They were getting too many loose balls. And their half-court defense hurt us. We only had eight points in the second half.”
Ursuline was led by Aurielle Irizarry with 15 points and Courtney Powell with 12, while Ja’Niece Whitehead sparkled on defense.
Irish coach Sean Durkin said his players were pursuing the ball and getting possessions which translated into shots and points, although they had a very low shooting percentage.
‘“We started to get the 50-50 balls and we got our transition going and that helped,” said Durkin, conceding his team missed many easy shots.
“We missed so many layups that had we just made a couple of them we probably could have opened a 10, 15-point lead and put the game away early.”
Durkin lauded Whitehead’s relentless defensive play, which got the Irish key possessions.
“Whitehead came on to spark us defensively. She had rebounds and loose balls,” said Durkin, whose Irish surged away from the Eagles in the third quarter.
United was within 22-21 early in the third quarter when Ursuline went on a 20-2 scoring run spanning the third and fourth quarters, led by Dominique Jenkins who got all six of her points during the spurt, to open a 42-22 lead with 3:10 left in the game to sew up the victory.
Durkin gave United a lot of credit.
“We played a very sloppy first half,” said Durkin, referring to the Irish’s modest 22-17 lead at intermission.
And both teams had problems scoring in the third, combining for only 11 points as Ursuline carried a 28-22 lead into the final period.
“United’s [defense] confused us in the second half,” said Durkin.
Zeigler said that he lost three players from last year which diluted the team’s performance somewhat, but that the players regrouped and turned out to be a quality team.
Later, in the Campbell-South Range nightcap, the Red Devils led by only 29-26 entering the final period, but then poured on the offense behind Jayaira Grhim and Tashira Uceta who with eight points each and Iesha Moses with seven, to storm away from the Raiders (14-9).
Uceta finished with 17 points, Moses had 16 and Grhim 11 to pace the Red Devils, who used their quickness to get many balls and jumping ability to grab key rebounds and then run the court.
Campbell also enjoyed a 13-2 advantage at the foul line to offset a narrow 19-17 goal margin.
Ellen Stoffer led South Range with 10 points while Tabitha Stanton and Samantha Smith added nine apiece.
The Raiders managed to close the gap again late in the fourth quarter on back-to-back goals from McKenzie Pfeifer and Stoffer, but Campbell erupted again to finish the game with a 13-3 scoring run as Uceta had six of the points and Moses four.
South Range dominated the first half, moving to a 14-13 lead after the first period.
And the Raiders managed to outscore the Red Devils in the second period by only 6-3 — Stoffer getting four of the points — to take a 20-16 lead into intermission.
But after a close battle throughout the third quarter, Uceta hit a 3-point goal to make it 29-26 to end the third, setting the stage to Campbell’s offensive eruption in the finale.