MINERAL RIDGE - For most of the first quarter of Thursday night's Division III district semifinal contest between United and Girard, the Indians trailed 6-4. The scoreboard was stuck by no fault of its own.
Coach Andy Saxon's team was great at one end, but at the other, unfortunately, they couldn't make a free throw. The Indians finished the night 3 of 16 from the line, missed their first six attempts, and ultimately fell to United's pressure, 50-29.
Girard battled all night, especially in the opening quarter, but several second-quarter turnovers quickly turned into United lay-ups while Indian standout Bree Bishop sat on the bench with two personal fouls.
"They put a ton of pressure on you," Saxon said. "You're going to turn the ball over some, but you have to attack and make some shots. We struggled so much from the free-throw line, then they started getting some transition."
Still, with just a minute to go in the first half, Girard trailed by only 12 points and had survived Bree Bishop's foul situation. Just before the buzzer, however, a loose ball turned into a 3-pointer by Emily Zehentbauer pushed the lead to 15 at 29-14 heading into halftime.
United coach Sam Mathias, whose team is the defending champions of the Mineral Ridge district, has come to expect his Eagles to come through in tight situations.
"We went into the locker room, and I said there's a big difference between a 12-point game and a 15-point game," Mathias said. "They were one possession away from cutting it to single digits and they were very physical."
For much of the season, as well as the tournament, Girard's physicality has come in the form of Bree Bishop, who was held to just four points in the contest.
"She plays like a bull," Mathias said. "She really does a great job down low for the them and she just beats her way right in there. I thought our guards did a good job digging in there."
For most of the second half, United played "possum" - spreading the floor, working the clock, and executing a series of backdoor cuts and drives that slowly extended its lead.
"They have a very nice team," Saxon said. "They have good size and big guards and they play the length of the floor. We're more of a half-court team and they made us play the length of the floor, which really threw us out of our game.
"I'm very proud of this team. We had a great run with a lot of team wins and had a really good season. We had some nice victories against some top quality opponents."
Shymara Dykes led Girard with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
United's focus turns to Champion, who defeated Pymatuming Valley in the evening's earlier contest, 51-49.