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South makes furious comeback and topples Minersville in state tournament

The Minersville crowd roaring and time fading, South Williamsport coach Justin Marnon marveled at what he heard his players saying seconds before they took the court.

One quarter remained and South trailed by nine Tuesday. The Mounties made their intentions clear. They have produced a super season and they were not ready to end it.

So they made sure it continued.

Sofia Casella, Claudia Green and Aleigha Rieppel each scored five fourth-quarter points and South rallied from that nine-point deficit to beat District 11 champion Minersville, 37-35 on its home court in the Class AA state tournament’s opening round. Piper Minier scored a team-high 11 points, Lacey Kriebel added nine and South’s Comeback Kids did it again, erasing a second-half deficit for a third time this postseason.

“They had every opportunity to fold, but the leadership that comes from these girls is amazing,” Marnon said. “They looked at each other in between quarters and were saying, ‘We have one more quarter and we’re not ending our season like this.’ They went out and played like that.”

South refused to lose, storming back and going ahead for good with 2 1/2 minutes remaining when Casella drained a jumper which put South up 35-33. Casella also connected on the front end of a 1-and-1, pushing the lead to three. Rieppel hit a key 3-pointer and both she and Green made big foul shots as South quieted a crowd which packed the gym.

The Mounties (22-4) won their first state tournament game since 2009 and will play Sacred Heart Academy in Friday’s second round at a time and place to be determined. South also revealed its character yet again, never flinching after going down by nine and beating a recent state champion for the second time in 10 days after downing defending state champion Mount Carmel in the district semifinals.

South opened its playoff run by fighting back from an 18-point deficit against Millville. The Mounties would rather not be in those spots, but when the games are their toughest, this determined team continues shining bright.

“That’s how it’s been throughout the season, but especially in the playoffs. We’ve trailed in every postseason game now and, with the exception of Southern, been able to come out on top,” Marnon said. “It does sound like a broken record, but I will continue to talk about how resilient they are. The mental toughness they show is amazing. It’s amazing to be a part of it and watch it.”

Minersville captured the 2017 state championship and was coming off two dramatic district playoff wins to win another district crown. It wasted no time building on that momentum, leading 12-3 after a quarter. South cut it to five by halftime but Minersville pushed the lead back up to 31-22 entering the fourth. Minier and Kriebel kept South in the game, combining for 20 points those first three quarters. In the final quarter, offense and relentless defense came together and the Mounties made their move.

South often plays zone defense, but switched things up and started using a man-to-man press. The adjustment worked and South started forcing turnovers which it turned into points. Just past midway through the fourth quarter, South had come all the way back to tie it. Casella put it ahead to stay and the Mounties remained stingy on defense, allowing just four fourth-quarter points.

Every starter scored at least five points and each player took turns making big shots and/or critical plays. It has been that way all season and it paid huge dividends Tuesday, pushing South into the tournament’s Sweet 16.

“I think the girls realize we didn’t play our best game tonight, but we did what was necessary to win in a really tough place to play,” Marnon said. “It was a tough draw with this being the first year district champions are hosting games and it was a great atmosphere, so when you can win in that environment, it builds confidence.”

Despite the travel on a week night, South’s fans made their presence known and gave the team a boost. The Mounties also have received a lift from boys basketball players like Alex Neidig and Aaron Akers, as well as some alumni. South is rallying around this team, not just because it is winning but because of how it plays the game.

“We dug ourselves a hole, but defensively, they locked in again and we made the shots when it mattered,” Marnon said. “It’s kind of remarkable listening to them talk and then going out there and getting it done. It was a fun game to be a part of and a fun game to get out of with a victory.”

SOUTH (37)

Abby Akers 0 0-0 0, Lacey Kriebel 3 0-0 9, Claudia Gren 2 3-5 7, Piper Minier 3 3-9 11, Sofia Casella 2 1-2 5, Alizabeth Schuler 0 0-0 0, Aleigha Rieppel 1 2-4 5. Totals 11 9-20 37.

MINERSVILLE (35)

Keera Brennan 3 0-0 7, Brooke Kopinetz 4 0-2 11, Kaycee Raczka 3 9-12 17, Julia Burgess 0 0-0 0, Emily Hart 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 9-14 35.

South 3 13 6 15-37

Minersville 12 9 10 4-35

3-pointers: South 6 (Kriebel 3, Minier 2, Rieppel); Minersville 6 (Kopinetz 3, Raczka 2, Brennan).

Records: South 22-4. Minersville 13-12.

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