Indiana girls clean glass, knock off shorthanded McKeesport

Monday, February 17, 2020 | 11:07 PM

All season long, the McKeesport girls basketball team wreaked havoc on the glass thanks to the play of Jhayla Bray.

The senior went over the 1,000 mark in both points and rebounds this season, and the Tigers earned the No. 5 seed in the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

McKeesport was primed to make a run in this year’s tournament, but then Bray was suspended for the Tigers’ first round game against Indiana and everything changed.

The No. 12 Indians dominated the boards in the second half and withstood a couple of McKeesport comeback efforts, holding on for a 54-48 victory in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs Monday night.

Eve Fiala, a 6-foot-3 freshman, cleaned up the glass with 25 rebounds and added 19 points for Indiana (14-9). Hope Cook had four 3-pointers, including one with just under two minutes to go to put Indiana up for good. She led the way with 20 points.

The story of the game revolved around who was not in the lineup. McKeesport (15-8) evidently missed its leader, and it showed during pregame warmups as the Tigers all wore shirts with Bray’s No. 45 adorned on the back.

“She was suspended by the PIAA for getting ejected last week in the game against West Mifflin,” said McKeesport coach Eric Smith. “We appealed it, and they shot us down. The unfortunate thing is you have a senior who missed a game. She had a great opportunity to play in a playoff game and show some college coaches what she can do. That’s what hurts for me.

“She could have made a difference. Not saying we would have won, but she’s a difference maker. I can’t take anything away from my kids. It was a valiant effort. They rallied around Jhayla not being here. They had a fantastic effort.”

Freshman Malina Boord led all scorers with 25 points. It was her eight-point spurt in the fourth quarter that gave McKeesport a short-lived 46-45 lead with 2:51 to play.

Senior Laila Taylor was gutsy all game as well. She had 10 points, eight rebounds and five steals.

Youth played a big role in the game as Taylor was the only senior to start for McKeesport.

“I am so proud of them for battling,” Smith said. “We played four freshmen and started two. You would have thought the stage was too big, but it really wasn’t. We just kept going.”

The first quarter saw McKeesport jump out to a 9-5 lead. The Tigers could have had a larger advantage, but they went 3 of 8 at the charity stripe. Indiana was able to get the deficit to a single point by the end of eight minutes at 11-10.

The Indians’ defensive pressure picked up in the second quarter and held the Tigers to 2 of 13 shooting. Indiana took a 20-13 lead on a basket by Cook with 2:05 left in the half. McKeesport rallied and ended the half on an 8-1 run to tie the game at 21-21 at the break.

Indiana came out of the locker room and immediately got the ball inside.

Fiala scored 10 of her points in the third as the Indians built their largest lead of the game at 36-27 with 2:18 left. The quarter ended with the Tigers down 39-33.

A three by Carmen Coles cut the Indians’ lead to 42-38. After Katie Kovalchick made 1 of 2 at the free throw line, Boord hit a trey to make it a two-point game. She then answered a Fiala putback with a reverse layup and then another three, giving McKeesport a 46-45 lead.

Indiana finished the game on a 9-2 run, ending the Tigers’ season in the process.

Indiana takes on Blackhawk in the Class 4A quarterfinals Thursday night.

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