Southmoreland girls lean on defense to hold off Apollo-Ridge

Monday, February 18, 2019 | 9:16 PM

All conscious thought left Bailey Kuhns’ mind as she saw Apollo-Ridge’s Rylee Eaton break into the clear for a potential go-ahead layup in the final minute of Southmoreland’s first playoff game in more than a decade.

“I was pretty far behind her, and I was like, ‘Gotta get there, gotta get there, gotta get there,’ ” the Southmoreland freshman said.

She got there.

Kuhns’ chase-down block of Eaton, followed by a clutch layup on the other end, preserved No. 6 Southmoreland’s 40-37 victory over No. 11 Apollo-Ridge in a Class 4A first-round game Monday night at Norwin.

“She got beat, but she made up for it,” Southmoreland coach Brian Pritts said. “That’s the grit that we’re looking for. People always look in the paper and see who scores all the points … but the grit plays are what we break down, what we look for.”

The grit plays keyed Southmoreland (18-5) all season and helped the Scotties reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

They entered Monday’s game with the top-ranked scoring defense in Class 4A, and they made the big plays on that end down the stretch to get their first postseason victory in 11 years. Southmoreland will play No. 3 Blackhawk (18-4) in the quarterfinals Thursday at a time and site to be determined.

Maggie Moore forced a turnover by blocking an Apollo-Ridge inbounds pass in the final 10 seconds, and Sarah Pisula blocked Eaton’s desperation 3-pointer from beyond half court at the buzzer.

“It’s because we want to win so bad,” Kuhns said. “Defense is the most important part of the game. Offense will sell tickets and do that, but defense will win you championships.”

Kuhns said the Scotties experienced nerves, particularly early, in their first high school playoff game. But they made life equally difficult for Apollo-Ridge (15-8).

Southmoreland’s sizable front line, led by the 6-foot-2 Moore, a Navy recruit, made driving the lane a dangerous mission for Apollo-Ridge. And on the perimeter, the Scotties used their limbs to make even simple passes difficult.

Apollo-Ridge went more than 10 minutes in the first half without a field goal and finished the first half with 10 turnovers, two field goals and 12 points. Southmoreland forced 18 turnovers for the game.

“We couldn’t score early,” Apollo-Ridge coach Jim Callipare said. “We were having trouble adjusting to that length, so it was a slow start as far as offense goes. I thought we did well. We had plenty of opportunities. We just didn’t convert the opportunities that we had down the stretch tonight. Tough way to lose, especially with the group of seniors we have.”

Apollo-Ridge used a matchup zone to limit the opportunities for Moore, and she didn’t score until late in the third quarter and finished with four points.

Kuhns scored seven points, and fellow freshman Gracie Spadaro added five for Southmoreland to give the Scotties an 18-12 halftime lead.

The advantage swelled to 32-22 by the end of the third quarter as Southmoreland twice found big answers to Apollo-Ridge 3-pointers: first a 3 by Delaynie Morvosh, and then a three-point play by Pisula.

“We all knew that we had to work together in order to pull out the win, and I’m just so proud of my teammates and how everybody pulled together,” Kuhns said.

The Scotties needed that effort in the fourth quarter, as Apollo-Ridge rallied. A Morgan Gamble 3 and four free throws by Maddy Moore cut Southmoreland’s lead to 34-29 with 5:33 remaining, and a Liz Penrose 3 and Gamble basket sliced the deficit to two with just over two minutes remaining.

A Maggie Moore layup off a steal gave Southmoreland a short reprieve, but Maddy Moore’s 3-pointer cut the Southmoreland lead to 38-37 with 1:01 left. An ensuing Southmoreland turnover gave Apollo-Ridge the ball.

That set the stage for Kuhns.

“We had some jitters and nerves late in the game, but we overcome and pulled it out,” Pritts said. “I’m really, really, really happy.”

Kuhns scored 13 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, and Spadaro added 11 points. Maddy Moore scored 12 for Apollo-Ridge before fouling out in the fourth quarter.

“We tried to force a few things, and that cost us a couple extra possessions,” Callipare said. “You hate to look back and say ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda,’ but that’s girls high school basketball.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, or via Twitter .

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