Ailing Yough girls come up short in preliminary round against Beaver Falls

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Thursday, February 16, 2023 | 10:59 PM


Mikalah Chewning leaned over a trash can behind the Yough bench during the first half as she dealt with flu-like symptoms.

Autumn Matthews left late in the third quarter with a possible concussion after she hit her head on the floor.

Hailey Bock wasn’t as sharp around the rim as she played with a broken finger.

Translation?

Yough wasn’t itself Thursday night in its first girls basketball playoff game in 13 years.

Visiting Beaver Falls took full advantage, knocking back the Cougars, 40-32, in a WPIAL Class 3A preliminary-round game.

“No excuses,” Yough coach Mike Gerdich said. “(Beaver Falls) played better. They out-physicaled us tonight.”

All things considered, 16th-seeded Yough (10-12) hung around and had a chance late but could not put together consistent scoring runs as the No. 17 Tigers (10-11) sealed off the paint and made the Cougars work for shots.

Yough, looking for its first playoff win since 2009, scored in single digits in every quarter and never led.

“They were one of the strongest teams we played all year,” Gerdich said. “Everyone knows we’re strong inside. They were hanging two or three on our post players all night.”

Beaver Falls advances to play No. 1 Shady Side Academy (20-2) in the first round noon Saturday at Fox Chapel.

The Tigers made the semifinals two year ago during the WPIAL’s open tournament but clinched a spot this year for the first time since 2016-17 under third-year coach Dom Henderson.

Pressure in the backcourt forced Yough to play hurried. Offensive sets were pushed to the wings, and the Cougars’ “bigs” could not receive clean passes inside.

“We see teams with a lot of good guards,” Henderson said. “(Yough’s) guards aren’t that strong. We knew (Laney Gerdich) is their workhorse, so we knew we needed to stop that girl.”

Consider that gameplan a success. Gerdich, who is good for a double-double most nights, was limited to eight points and didn’t make a field goal until the seven-minute mark of the fourth.

The 6-foot senior finished with eight points, seven in the fourth.

Chewning, meanwhile, played through her illness, driving to the rim for tough layups or dishing off to Gerdich in a gutsy performance.

Chewning, who, like Gerdich, played her final game for Yough, finished with a game-high 13 points.

“She was digging deep,” Mike Gerdich said. “She was putting pressure on herself. I told her, blow your nose and get that out of your head.”

Matthews, a junior forward, was effective early, battling for rebounds against taller players.

When she left with 1 minute, 23 seconds to go in the third, Beaver Falls had a 25-21 lead.

The advantage reached eight early in the fourth before Yough made a minor run. Laney Gerdich finished a three-point play then scored off a dump-off from Chewning to make it 31-28.

But freshman Taylor Pullen hit a layup, and sophomore Carla Brown scored on a drive to put the Tigers in front, 35-28.

Pullen and Brown combined for nine points in the fourth, as many as Yough scored.

Yough could get only within five the rest of the way, the last time on a putback by Chewning with 2:08 left.

The Cougars made 8 of 18 free throws.

“You gotta make free throws,” Mike Gerdich said. “It’s what, an eight- or nine-point game? You have to make those in the playoffs.”

Beaver Falls wasn’t much better from the line, shooting 6 of 14.

Cali Legzdin looked like the best player on the floor at times for the Tigers. The junior guard tied junior Avina Norman with a team-high 10 points.

Legzdin and Norman combined for 11 of the Tigers’ 13 in the third.

“We’ve got some scorers,” Henderson said. “We have girls who can score from every position. We’re building. We’re a young team that is learning and growing.”

The Tigers plodded through a low-scoring first half to take a 12-6 lead after the first quarter and led 16-14 at intermission.

Yough had a 6-0 run in the second to tie it 12-12.

“This was a 50/50 game,” Mike Gerdich said. “It’s disappointing because I know we can play better.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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