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Southern unseats Mountain Ridge, 56-49, for area's top spot

Jan. 12—OAKLAND — Southern is known for its balanced offense, but in crunch time against defending area champion and state finalist Mountain Ridge, Carly Wilt called game with an exceptional individual performance.

With the shot clock dwindling and Southern clinging to a three-point lead with 2:42 to play, Wilt lofted a 25-foot runner toward the cylinder. The ball pierced the nylon, and Ram Arena erupted in a raucous cacophony likely not heard in that gymnasium since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a contest that lived up to the hype, No. 2 Southern overcame a hot start by No. 1 Mountain Ridge behind its 1-3-1 zone and 15 second-half points from Wilt to emerge victorious, 56-49, on Thursday night before a standing-room-only crowd.

"They couldn't miss in the first quarter, and they got up early on us," Southern head coach Landon Todd said. "They were making everything. And then late down the stretch, their shots weren't falling, and we started to get some shots that did fall.

"Credit to Carly Wilt, she had a gigantic third quarter. I just felt like she said, 'Alright. We're not losing this game. I'm going to pull us to a victory.' And she did."

With the victory, Southern improved to 10-2 overall and into sole possession of first place in the Western Maryland Athletic Conference with a 3-0 record. Mountain Ridge fell to 9-2 overall and 3-1 in the WestMAC.

The Rams will likely be No. 1 in the area for the first time this season on Monday. The Miners have occupied that spot in the first four iterations of the rankings during the 2023-24 season.

While Wilt's shot was the game's resolution, the climax occurred less than a minute prior.

Sydney Snyder, the reigning Area Player of the Year and a 19.3 points per game scorer, suffered her disqualifying fifth foul after getting called for a charge. She exited the game with a team-high 16 points.

Mountain Ridge was out of sorts offensively the rest of the way, and Southern scored seven of the game's final 10 points to pull away from Allegany County's finest.

"When she's not on the floor we struggle to run our offense. There's no secret to that," Mountain Ridge head coach Todd Snyder said. "Some girls are just a little bit uncomfortable with the basketball in their hands.

"Some of them can do it, but they're still not wanting to do it or ready to do it, and that really hurt us when she went out."

The Miners opened the game strong on a 12-5 run, and Snyder was a big reason why, hitting her first three shots — all jumpers and one from 3-point land — against the Southern zone defense.

Jayden Weaver pulled Southern within two points with an old-fashioned 3-point play late in the stanza, and the Rams trailed 13-11 after one.

Southern didn't take its maiden edge until the final minute of the first half when Weaver sunk a trey with 56 seconds left for a 25-23 lead. Weaver ended with 14 points.

Snyder answered with a trey of her own on the other end, and Abi Teets allowed Southern to regain a 28-26 advantage at the half with a third 3-pointer in as many possessions.

Southern made a calculated risk to start the second half, putting athletic 5-foot-8 freshman Kelsey Ward at the top of a 1-3-1 half-court trap defense despite having three personal fouls.

The decision paid off as Ward immediately disrupted passing lanes leading to run-outs and fast break opportunities.

Mountain Ridge struggled to move the defense with crosscourt passes, and Southern's zone kept the ball on one side of the court and limited the Miners' effectiveness offensively.

"We were trying to get the ball to the middle, but we were vacating the middle to try to get out of pressure. We kept taking the ball to the corner," coach Snyder said. "That's not where we wanted the ball to go.

"We were trying to throw over the top of everything instead of making them leave their feet, throw bounce passes and put the ball on the floor."

Southern began the second half on a 5-0 run and led 41-33 with 3:13 to play in the third period after Wilt's fourth field goal of the stanza.

Wilt had 10 points in the quarter and finished with a game-high 17 points.

"We've been waiting for her to have her coming out party," Todd said. "Not only did she score the ball, but late in the game when all our freshmen wanted to panic when they got pressed, give the ball to Carly. She slows us down, shows some poise and gets us in our offense."

Mountain Ridge answered with a 7-0 flurry, which included a traditional 3-point play by way of Taylor Lamberson, to pull within a point, but Southern scored the quarter's final four points to lead 45-40 entering the decider.

The Miners slowly narrowed Southern's edge to 47-46 midway through the final quarter, yet things quickly unraveled when Snyder picked up her fourth and fifth fouls in quick succession.

With the writing on the wall, Wilt erased all Mountain Ridge hope with her circus shot 3-pointer late in the shot clock for a late six-point advantage, and Southern held on for a statement victory.

Southern had eight different players score in the first half. In addition to double-figure efforts from Wilt and Weaver, Emelee Parks garnered nine points and Gabbi Berry six.

Reghan Sivic joined Snyder in double figures for Mountain Ridge with 13 points, Lamberson finished with nine and Kealana Pua'auli chipped in seven.

Mountain Ridge now gets ready for a road test at Frankfort on Saturday, while Southern is at rival Northern on Tuesday night.

The two squads will meet again on Feb. 12 in Frostburg. Both have aspirations of making a run in the state tournament, but there can only be one squad that gets out of the region.

Securing home field advantage will be paramount.

"That's a team that if we want to get back down the road, we have to go through them" coach Snyder said.

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.