Struthers – The South Range Raiders girls basketball team played a tenacious defense and hit their foul shots down the stretch to capture their first District Title since 1998 when Don Feren coached the Raiders. In the process the Raiders held Tanaya Beacham, star forward of the Irish, to just 7 points and 5 rebounds.
The 50-39 victory advances the Raiders to the Cuyahoga Regional semi-final games against Smithville. That contest is scheduled for next Wednesday at 6:15pm.
“Staying under control,” South Range head coach Matisi explained as the key to winning the game. “We went through a walk through last night and maybe it was a good thing only having one day to prepare, because maybe we would have over prepared. We kept it short and sweet, lets play the defense we play all year. Let’s see how their guards handle it and we’ll give Beacham her points but we got to be ready to help on everybody else. Staying under control was a big part of this.”
Beacham got in foul trouble early in the game with two in the first quarter, and one more in the second. “It’s a big factor,” Irish coach Sean Durkin said. “She like a 18 point, 15 rebound a game kid, something like that. She is our go-to kid and her spending most of the game sitting next to me doesn’t make our job any easier.”
“South Range outplayed us all over the place. We couldn’t stop their dibble penetration the entire game. They put great defensive pressure on us. The way we played today we didn’t deserve to win,” Irish coach Sean Durkin said. “We knew they were quick. We knew that they play very hard. We expected them to come out and do what they did and come after us.”
This District title makes the eighth for Matisi. He had seven as the head coach of Lowellville, but he admitted that this one is pretty special in his first season with South Range. “This is different, because of the kids, they are great kids. Such hard workers. Go in and talk to them, they listen so intently, they took coaching so well. From day one, but I can’t start anything without my two seniors. They have carried us from day one, bought into it, trusted us, and it showed this last month of basketball.”
Those two seniors Matisi recognized are Sierra Petrella and Starla Sharp. “This one here (pointing to Petrella), I’ve never had a girl get into another girls behind,” Matisi remarked. She was an extension of us coaches. She wasn’t afraid when she steps across the line to be a senior leader. I’ve had kids before (that were leaders), but not like that, not like that. She is the best captain I’ve ever had, ever. That’s why I feel so good for them because they worked so hard,”
“I just want to see everybody that’s a part of our team play the best that they can. And I think we always played best when we come together and that’s just what I try to do,” Petrella said.
The Raiders also had their share of foul issues erly in the contest as both Ashley and Starla Sharp collected three first half fouls. With the two of them also spending minutes on the bench, the Irish came back from an early deficit to take a 19-18 halftime lead.
The Irish stretched their advantage to four points at 28-24 midway through the third quarter. That is when Ashley Sharp connected on a three point play from the top of the arc to make it 28-27.
“There were a couple points there were they had a four or five point lead and we came back. That three by Ashley was big. It brought us back, I think we went on a 10-0 run or something like that,” Matisi remarked.
In fact it was a 12-0 run by the Raiders that put them up 36-28 with seven seconds left in the third quarter. They would continue to keep the pressure on the Irish in the fourth as they outscored the Irish 14-10 in the final stanza.
One reason the Raiders were able to keep the Irish at bay was the clutch foul shooting of sophomore Morgan Czoper. She would convert 11 of 15 attempts in the game, including 8 of 10 in the final 9:42 of the game.
“A lot,” Czoper said of how much she practices free throw shooting. “I go on Sunday’s to the Salem Community Center and I just practice. I’ll shoot and practice and practice.”
“Very special,” Starla Sharp said of the win. We came close our freshman year so (with it) our senior year, our last year, it’s unbelievable. No words (to explain). No words can even describe how we feel.”
The Raiders lost to the Irish 62-46 in 2011 in the District Final, Sharp’s freshman year. The Irish also knocked the Raiders out of the tournament in 2012, 53-26 in a quarterfinal game.
The Raiders were led by Czoper who scored a game-high 19 points while Ashley Sharp added another 10. Petrella and Sara Durr chipped in six points a piece. Durr also grabbed 6 rebounds coming off the Raiders bench.
Simone Comer took scoring honors for the Irish with 17 on the night. The Irish close the season with a 12-11 record.
Courtesy: Lowell Spencer