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Missed opportunity

YSU women lose by 2 in Horizon semifinal

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes YSU’s Melinda Trimmer drives on Green Bay’s Laken James during Monday’s Horizon League semifinal in Detroit.

DETROIT — Senior guard Melinda Trimmer missed a nine-foot floater with five seconds in the game.

It would’ve put the Youngstown State women’s basketball team ahead by one, seemingly capping a double-figure comeback against Green Bay, a nemesis of every team in the Horizon League.

The shot fluttered on and off the rim and into the hands of Frankie Wurtz of the Phoenix as Green Bay won Monday’s Horizon League women’s basketball semifinal at Little Caesars Arena, 55-53.

Fifteen seconds earlier, Sarah Cash, who has one of the best field-goal percentages in the Horizon League, saw her lay-up graze the rim and go out to Green Bay.

It led to three straight fouls by second-seeded YSU (22-9) to eventually force second-seeded Green Bay (22-8) to the line with 11 seconds remaining. Meghan Pingel, who had 11 points off the bench, made two shots for a 54-51 Phoenix lead.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes YSU’s Alison Smolinski shoots a 3-pointer. She made five in the third quarter to rally the Penguins from a first-half, double-figure deficit. She had 15 of her game-high 18 in the third quarter.

Pingel fouled on the YSU inbounds, tagging Cash, a Lordstown native. Cash rallied and made two free throws to cut the Green Bay lead to 54-53.

Cash committed her fourth foul with nine seconds left, sending Frankie Wurtz to the line. Wurtz led Phoenix with 13 points. She missed both free throws and McKenah Peters rebounded the ball for YSU. Time out Penguins with 9 seconds left. Peters had eight rebounds.

That led to Trimmer’s missed floater and Chelsea Olson’s fifth and final foul with 3 seconds remaining. Wurtz came back and made both free throws for a 55-53 Green Bay lead, sending the Phoenix to today’s Horizon League title game against top-seeded Wright State, starting at noon.

Trimmer had 10 points off the bench for YSU.

“We got two really good looks,” YSU coach John Barnes said. “That’s the tough part of coaching and playing. McKenah did everything she had to help. It barely rolled off. It’s hard to swallow.

Special to Tribune Chronicle / Robert Hayes Youngstown State’s Alison Smolinski (2) and Sarah Cash, left, defend the middle Monday against Green Bay.

“They’re here to grow as individuals. This will take a lot of growing. They’ll learn a lot from it, get stronger from it. When they’re in their jobs and it doesn’t go right, they’ll be able to react a lot easier just because of this.”

Easier said than done in Monday’s postgame news conference.

YSU went on a 9-2 run to end the first half, giving the Penguins much-needed momentum in a half in which YSU shot 7-of-29 from the floor and 6-of-19 from 3. Green Bay outscored the Penguins in the paint, 20-2, in a first half which mostly belonged to the Phoenix. Green Bay finished the game with a 32-6 edge in points in the paint as YSU held the Phoenix to 12 post points in the second half.

“I thought we had a lot of heart coming in,” said Peters (12 points) while fighting back tears. “We knew we could fight. We knew we could fight and get it done in the second half.”

That started with the hot hand of Alison Smolinski, who had a game-high 18 points. She had five 3-pointers in the third quarter as the teams finished it tied at 38. YSU trailed 14-9 after one quarter and 27-21 at halftime. Green Bay led 25-12 with 3:29 left in the half on Madison Wolf’s shot inside the paint, one of many the Phoenix had in the first half.

“I thought my teammates did a good job of getting me the ball,” Smolinski said. “I had a rush of confidence and they had confidence in me.”

The Phoenix held her scoreless in the fourth quarter.

It was a rough night for the Penguins duo of Cash and Mary Dunn, limited to four points. Cash had four points, while Dunn was held scoreless. The two were 1-of-8 from the floor.

“Green Bay does a great job of taking away teams’ post players,” Barnes said. “We knew they would try to keep us out of the paint. It’s tough because we throw it inside so much.”

The season is far from over for the YSU women as Barnes said the Penguins have been invited to the Women’s Basketball Invitational Tournament. The Penguins also have been looked at for the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. Barnes said his team’s record, strength of schedule and RPI gives YSU a chance to get into WNIT.

The Penguins will not know officially if they are hosting a home game next week in either tournament until the evening of March 18. Playing a game at the Beeghly Center is a possibility.

There is a cost to host WBI and WNIT games, which is usually covered by advertising income.

“With both tournaments, you can put up bids,” Barnes said. “Our administration has been outstanding in trying to get us home games. We’ll put bids out there that could get accepted. We’ve got great home support, community support all year long. It would be great to play a couple more at home.”

Barnes said that 99 times out of 100, Cash usually makes the layup she missed with 20 seconds left. This upcoming tournament gives the Lordstown native and the whole YSU team a new focus.

“She’ll be hungry to get the next win,” Barnes said.

That’s an understatement.

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