GREENSBURG – Oh how sweet it is!
The West Middlesex girls basketball team is headed to its first state championship game in program history after cruising past District 5 champion Everett 51-33 in the PIAA Class 2A semifinals Monday at Hempfield Area High School.
“Honestly, I’m speechless,” Ms. Reds’ senior Karsyn Rupert said. “I’m a senior and I wouldn’t want to go out any other way than playing for a state championship with my team. I’m so glad our team has gotten this opportunity. I’m just so emotional and so excited right now that I’m going to play in the state title game as a senior!”
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the skies opened up and hundreds of chocolate kisses began to coat the floor as the Ms. Reds and the entire West Middlesex community celebrated the program’s record 26th single-season victory.
“I can’t explain what I’m feeling right now,” West Middlesex junior star Makennah White said. “It’s an honor and a blessing to be going to Hershey with my team. Not many teams get this opportunity and for us to do it, it means a lot.
“This season has been a roller coaster with its ups and its downs. We lost some games against some good teams, but the more we stuck to the fundamentals that we were taught the better we became and now we’re heading to Hershey!”
With the win, West Middlesex (26-3) will earn a second crack at Bellwood-Antis (25-3) – a 66-58 winner over Mahanoy Area – at noon Thursday at Hershey’s Giant Center. The Ms. Reds were ousted by B-A 70-53 in the second round of the state tourney last year.
“We’re good to go!” West Middlesex Coach Mike Williams said. “I’m just so tickled for the kids. We pulled off the rare triple (Region 1, District 10 and western region championships). We’re now one of three teams in school history to put up 3 banners at the same time. No matter what happens on Thursday we get to put up a banner!
“We want to play Bellwood again. We were very impressed with them last year. We want to play them again with our new team. I’m really proud of these kids and what they’ve accomplished this year. We thought this team could be good, but I did not think these 3 freshmen would come to play like they did. Those 3 kids have really helped us.”
Despite the 18-point margin when triple zeros registered on the scoreboard, victory was no sure thing for Williams’ crew in the first half.
Everett (24-4) coerced 9 ties and 10 lead changes in the first half and neither team could muster a lead larger than 4 points with the clubs entering the locker rooms locked in a 24-all stalemate.
“We weren’t talking and we were too slow,” White said. “We weren’t doing the little things to be successful. You win ball games by doing the little things and we weren’t doing them in the first half.”
Whatever Williams said to the Ms. Reds in the locker room, it worked in the second half.
Makennah White and Taylor Tomko each bucketed back-to-back baskets to hand West Middlesex a 32-24 lead it would never relinquish.
“I didn’t make any friends at halftime,” Williams said. “No one will be giving me a Valentine after halftime. I was a little ignorant at times and a little hurtful at others, but that’s how we operate. I’m not a cheerleader. If you’re doing something wrong, I’m going to let you know, but they respond.
“These kids know I may get after them, but I’m going to be in their corner 20 seconds later. I’m like a parent. That’s old-school parenting. I’m going to get you when you’re wrong and I’m going to disciplina ya, but I’m going to come back with a hug afterwards.”
The Warriors closed to within 33-30 on a Gabby Bulger three-ball and a Madison Hicks and-one, but the D-5 champions would only score 3 more points over the final 10-plus minutes as West Middlesex pulled away.
“LIke our coach tells us, defense travels,” Rupert said. “It goes wherever we go as long as we talk. We’re able to get steals and easy layups and then we’re right back in our defense again.”
The Ms. Reds were able to put some distance between themselves and Everett thanks to a defense that held Warriors’ star Kaitlyn Maxwell scoreless and Everett to 14 percent shooting (3-of-21) in the second half.
Maxwell – who entered the game averaging over 24 points – scored all 16 of her points in the game’s opening 16 minutes.
“We had a diamond and one on her,” Rupert said. “(Freshman Emily Anthony) did a fantastic job on her in the second half. We got help there so she couldn’t drive to the basket and get uncontested layups.”
Williams also sang Anthony’s praises after the game.
“What about that Anthony girl? Wow!,” he said. “How about that defensive effort? If not for her, Maxwell probably scores 30. She did just a great job on Maxwell. (Maxwell) is unbelievably fast and can go to the basket with either her right or her left hand. She’s an amazing ballplayer.
“Emily was a little down in the first half. (Maxwell) was making shot-after-shot and those were great shots that she made. In the second half, Emily just took over the game defensively.”
White led West Middlesex with a 20-point, 13-rebound, 6-block outing and Rupert lent another 15 tallies, but it was a total team effort that will have Williams focused on Bellwood-Antis Thursday afternoon rather than his normal duties inside the halls at West Middlesex.
“I won’t be making lesson plans. What do you think the chances of that are,” the veteran coach joked. “(Thursday) will be a movie day, man! Karsyn has had a March to remember. Karsyn has had a tremendous run. Makennah may have had 20, but Karsyn made some big plays. (White) comes to play every day. (Rupert) could play college basketball. I don’t think she wants to, but I don’t think she wants this season to end. I thought Carlie Beatty did a nice job off the bench and Taylor (Tomko) made some nice plays. Grace picked up us at times defensively. Grace and Taylor did a great job of helping defensively. We followed the game-plan to a T!
“It was a great effort by my girls, because they like to do a lot of the same things we do. They like to get up and down the court. They like to switch up defenses and are well-coached.”
The trip to Hershey is a validation of sorts for Williams – who coached at A.C. Valley and Mercer before taking the West Middlesex job.
“This means a lot,” he said. “We’re a small school and we traveled over an hour and 45 minutes to get here. We had a bunch of kids here and I’d expect we’ll have at least one bus heading to Hershey on Thursday. Wow … GO BIG REDS!!!!”
Notes: The Ms. Reds became just the sixth girls basketball team in Mercer County history to compete in a state championship game, joining Sharpsville (1973 and 1981), Lakeview (1982) and Kennedy Catholic (1984 and 2001). … With the win, West Middlesex upped Mercer County area girls basketball teams’ record to 6-12 in the state semifinals. … Taylor Tomko finished with 7 points and 5 rebounds for West Middlesex. … West Middlesex held a 36-30 edge on the glass and committed 13 turnovers to Everett’s 15. … The Ms. Reds made 20-of-45 shots from the field, but were just 1 for 12 from downtown against the Warriors’ zone defense.
PIAA CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
W. MIDDLESEX 13 11 14 13 51
EVERETT 12 12 8 1 33
WEST MIDDLESEX — White 10-0-1-20, Anthony 1-0-0-2, Mild 1-3-8-5, Rupert 4-7-8-15, Tomko 3-0-0-7, Beatty 1-0-0-2. 3-pt. goal: Tomko 1. Totals: 20-10-17-51
EVERETT — Maxwell 7-0-0-16, Hicks 2-2-3-6, Colledge 2-0-0-4, Ewing 0-0-0-0, Jay 1-0-0-2, Bulger 1-0-0-3, Iseminger 0-2-2-2. 3-pt. goals: Maxwell 2, Bulger 1. Totals: 13-4-5-33.