Warren players and coaches celebrate after the Dragons defeated Elizabeth Forward to win the program's first ever PIAA Tournament game. Photo by Mark Evans.

“It’s the Best Feeling Ever”

Warren rallies to defeat Elizabeth Forward in overtime for the program's first ever PIAA Tournament win
March 9, 2024

WARREN, Pa. – Warren opened the extra period with a 12-1 run as the Dragons rallied for a 71-64 overtime win over Elizabeth Forward to pick up their first-ever PIAA Tournament victory.

See the highlights:

“We were pretty upset after that loss on Saturday (in the District 10 championship),” Warren coach Lisa LaVan said. “And we knew we still had a chance to do what we wanted to do, which was to win our first game in states. And to do it, it’s pretty awesome.”

See LaVan’s full interview:

Tied at 57-57 at the end of regulation, the Warriors (22-4) scored the first point in overtime when Kaylen Settles went 1-2 from the line. The Dragons (21-5) responded with 12 straight to take an 11-point lead.

Halle Kuzminski sank a pair of free throws to get the run started, and Alyssa Farr followed with a layup to push the lead to three, 61-58. Kuzminski and EF’s Alyssa Terta got tangled going after a loose ball. Terta, who led the Warriors with 15 points, was called for a foul on the play and picked up a technical after the play to foul out.
Kuzminski went 1-2 for the foul, and Sammie Ruhlman went 2-2 for the technical to put Warren in front, 64-58.

Ruhlman hit a layup off an inbound play and Peyton Wotorson scored off transition to make it 68-58 with less than two minutes to play.

“I think the biggest thing is that we are a well-conditioned team,” LaVan said of the Dragons’ early success in overtime. “We know that we can play at this pace and can consistently go. We knew going into (overtime) it was ours. They were exhausted. We were tired, but we knew we were going to take every ounce of the tank out and make sure that we got it done.”

Chloe Zombek ended the run with a layup with 40 seconds left. Alyssa Farr’s free throw made it 70-60, but Addison Niget knocked down a three with 25 seconds to play to give the Warriors some life.

Farr knocked down another free throw with 14 seconds to go. McKenna Bittner went to the line for the Warriors with 7.2 seconds left. Bittner hit the first but missed the second. Alana Stuart pulled down the rebound and passed to Ruhlman who held on for the final seconds.

“It’s amazing,” Ruhlman said during the Cole Orthodontic Associates player interview. “I literally can’t put it into words. And it feels so great having everyone here to support us.”

“This is what we worked all season for,” Kuzminski added. “It’s the best feeling ever.”

See the full Cole Orthodontic Associates player interview:

The Warriors had an 8-point lead with 5:35 to play in regulation. Warren cut the lead down to four, 52-48, with just under four minutes to go. Kuzminski hit a pair of free throws to make it a 2-point game. After a turnover, Kuzminski got the ball in the low post, made a move, and banked home a shot to tie it at 52-52.

A Terta layup and Settles free throw put the Warriors in front, 55-52, with two minutes to go in regulation. Stuart and Wotorson combined to go 3-4 from the line to knot it back up with a minute to play.

Michelle Jellison’s free throws with 23 seconds left put the Warriors ahead, 57-55. Kuzminski was fouled going to the basket with 9.5 seconds to play. She went 2-2 to even it at 57 apiece.

Elizabeth Forward had a chance to win it in regulation, but Jellison’s 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer.
Warren’s ability to clean up its free throw shooting in the second half was a big key to the win. The Dragons were just 5-11 from the line in the first half but went 21-27 from the charity stripe in the second half and overtime.

“Free throws win games,” Kuzminski said. “We always hear that from John (White) and all of our coaches. So we focused on that, we relaxed, and we knocked them down.”

Neither team was able to get much going at the outset, scoring just 10 total points through the midpoint of the first quarter. The Warriors led 12-7 at the end of the first eight minutes.

EF found some rhythm early in the second quarter with a pair of transition buckets and a Terta 3-pointer suddenly putting the Warriors ahead, 19-7.

“We knew they were going to go on runs,” Kuzminski said. “We had to withstand it.”

Warren answered with a 13-2 run to get within a point, 21-20. The Warriors had a response of their own to take a 30-26 lead into the locker room.

“We told them all week, ‘This team, they will go on runs,’” LaVan said. “But we also know we’re very capable of that as well when we’re playing the defense that we like to play.

Ruhlman and Stuart hit back-to-back threes early in the third quarter to give Warren its first lead of the game 32-30. EF came back to retake the lead and had a 46-41 advantage going into the fourth quarter.

Zombek finished with 14 points and Jellison had 13 points in the loss.

Ruhlman and Stuart each had 17 points to lead the Dragons. Kuzminski finished with 15 points.

“I know that I’ve gotten face-guarded the last two games and I’ve been struggling to shoot,” Ruhlman said. “So to know that I could help and get us there, it felt so good.”

Warren will face WPIAL champion North Catholic, a 49-27 winner over Conneaut, in the Sweet 16 on Wednesday at a time and location to be announced.

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