Rochester handles Clairton, earns chance to defend Class A girls title

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | 10:25 PM

Rochester and Clairton met Tuesday night for a chance to play for the Class A title game. The Rams are the reigning champions while the Bears were trying to make it back to the Petersen Events Center for the first time since 2005.

There is something to be said for experience, and even though Rochester does not have a senior-laden team, the Rams have been there before. The Bears found that out the hard way, falling to Class A’s top-seeded team, 57-37.

The Bears (20-4) turned the ball over 11 times and made only 1 of 11 from the field in the first eight minutes.

“The turnovers killed us,” Clairton coach Carlton Wade said. “We were supposed to go down low. My guards were also supposed to penetrate. They were in a wide zone most of the time. We thought that if we attacked the gaps, we would be successful. Rochester is good — I’ll give them credit — but they are not 20 points better than our team.”

Meanwhile, the Rams (23-1) started fast. They hit 4 of 6 out of the gate including seven points from Alexis Robison. The junior guard led all scorers with 21 points, while her sister, Mekenzie, put up 14 of her own.

“We wanted to eliminate the easy shots and work a little transition game and overcome their press,” Rochester coach CJ Iannini said. “We knew coming in that their 2-2-1 press was about 50% of their offense. So we wanted to try to at least handle that pressure and work them in a halfcourt game.”

The Rams’ press break worked perfectly. As a matter of fact, Clairton was unable to force a single turnover from it. Rochester was able to get several easy baskets from successfully breaking the Bears press.

Rochester used those easy transition baskets, some tough defense on the inside and some steady offense to command control of the game. The experience of having played under the bright lights of the postseason did not hurt either.

“You can’t do something that can substitute for experience,” Iannini said. “It’s absolutely critical this time of year. What we do to get this type of experience is play a strong non-conference schedule. We go out and play the best to put us in a position mentally that we are ready for this.”

“We have not been in this situation as a program in 16 years,” Wade said. “For the girls to step on this stage, that is huge for them. The jitters were there. I could see it. For how they played and they were nervous, it was rough. I’m not that upset.”

Clairton’s jitters left them with a huge hole to dig out of early in the game. They went over three minutes before hitting their first field goal. By half, the Bears had four field goals and four free throws. They trailed, 29-12.

Rochester continued to build its lead in the second half. The Rams led 39-17 with 4:35 left in the third quarter.

The Bears finally started to get the ball inside at that point to Iyauna Chapman. The senior scored six consecutive points, giving Clairton some life. However, Rochester scored the final eight points of the quarter to go ahead 47-23 and put out the Bears’ flame.

The Rams will see a familiar foe in the Class A final in West Greene at 3 p.m. Friday. Rochester defeated the Pioneers, 62-56, a year ago.

“They’re a great team. Hats off to them for what they’ve done,” Iannini said. “They replaced three 1,000-point scorers. We aren’t going to take them lightly by any means. They are familiar with us. We are familiar with them. It’s going to be a battle at The Pete, as usual.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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