South Xtra: West Mifflin battles adversity, wins first two games

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It didn't take long for West Mifflin Area to face some adversity ... and an uphill battle in the boys basketball season.

Try one game.

A perennial playoff participant, West Mifflin is fielding one of its most inexperienced teams in years. The Titans have only one returning starter -- 6-foot-1 senior guard Ryan Maha -- and none of their other players scored more than a few dozen points last season on the varsity level.

West Mifflin's season opener at Serra Catholic last Friday was going to be a challenge to begin with, and then Maha was ruled out with an ankle sprain. The Titans trailed for most of the game and by as many as 13 points in the third quarter.

They turned the ball over a ton and found themselves down by six points with just under a minute left.

And guess what? The Titans won.

West Mifflin is going to undergo some growing pains, but if its 46-44 win against Serra is any indication, inexperience alone won't keep the Titans out of the win column.

"I think the positive that came out was we found a way to win," West Mifflin coach Lance Maha said. "We're really inexperienced, but we've been through it before, so we're not going to make any excuses. We still think we can reach our goals. Just early on we're going to have to work our way through some stuff."

West Mifflin (2-0) returned to the court Tuesday and defeated South Allegheny, 68-48, in a non-section game. The Titans will play their Class AAA Section 4 opener Friday at East Allegheny.

The Titans lost four starters from last season's squad that went 16-6 and was the section runner-up. Luckily, the one returning starter is very experienced and should help his teammates find their way.

Ryan Maha is a three-year starter and one of the top players in Class AAA. Maha, the coach's son, averaged 17.6 points per game last season and was named all-section. Maha can play either point or shooting guard and is a deadly perimeter shooter. Also an excellent student, Maha has already committed to Carnegie Mellon, an NCAA Division III program.

"He gives us a lot of versatility and he's the best 3-point shooter we've had since I've been here," said Maha, who is in his 17th season.

"He's an intelligent player. He knows our schemes and he knows where the ball is supposed to go.

"He does all the things you expect from a player with his experience."

Ryan Maha returned to the lineup Tuesday against South Allegheny and led the Titans with 30 points.

In Maha's absence for the Serra game, sophomore guard Karlyn Garner showed that he might be ready to take on a significant role, as he scored a game-high 19 points. Garner was the quarterback on West Mifflin's football team that reached the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals.

"He's a big guard for a sophomore, close to 6-2," Lance Maha said. "He's very long and a pretty good ballhandler. He has the opportunity to be very good."

Brian Kolar, a 5-9 senior guard, 6-3 junior forward Phil Jackson and 6-2 senior forward Mike Peterson round out the starting five and have the potential to be big contributors.

Some of the other top players are junior guard Tre Booth, 6-0 senior guard Ryan Catalogna and 6-2 senior forward Gilbert Kirkland.

Booth made the biggest play of the game against Serra. With Serra ahead, 44-42, late in the game, Booth stole a pass, scored on a layup and was fouled. He converted the free throw to give West Mifflin a 45-44 lead with 13 seconds left, and the Titans hung on for the win.

Section 4-AAA is expected to be highly competitive.

Elizabeth Forward is likely the most talented team and is ranked No. 3 in Class AAA. Defending section champion Thomas Jefferson returned three starters and Steel Valley has all of its starters back.

It might take a bit for all of West Mifflin's pieces to fall into place, but once they do, the Titans could be in the mix for one of the top few spots in the section.

"If your players are willing students, then you have the opportunity to get better," Maha said. "Being a teacher and coach, it's improvement from beginning to end that I probably enjoy more than anything."

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