WPIAL playoffs reward for nine girls’ basketball teams
As the WPIAL enters the frenetic February phase of its basketball post-season, South Fayette girls’ coach Matt Bacco summed up tournament play succinctly.
“They call it ‘Madness’ for a reason,” he said of the WPIAL playoff competition. “It is fun for the kids to play in that type of atmosphere. The crowds are bigger and it is win or go home. Margins of error are small.”
And anything can happen, Bethel Park skipper Jonna Burke noted.
“One of the best things about competing in the playoffs is to know that you have a shot to win the championship.”
“It’s what we have worked for since last spring,” Mt. Lebanon’s Dori Oldaker said. “We love this time of year,” she added enthusiastically.
Seton-La Salle’s Whitney Jones concurred. “Qualifying for the playoffs is affirmation that your team is among the top.” In the Rebels’ case, that’s Top 12 in Class 6A of the WPIAL. “We work all season to be a playoff team. The next step now is to advance.”
Nine Almanac girls’ clubs look to advance to the quarterfinals of the playoffs when WPIAL playoff action commences this weekend. Visit www.wpial.org for pairings and first-round match-ups. In addition to South Fayette, Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park and Seton-La Salle, Peters Township, Canon-McMillan, Chartiers Valley, Chartiers-Houston and Bishop Canevin have qualified for the playoffs. Although in different classifications this winter, South Fayette and Canevin enter the post-season as reigning champions.
The Lions beat Trinity in last year’s Class AAA title tilt. Recently, fans were treated to what could be this year’s Class 5-A final. On Feb. 11, the Hillers toppled the Lions, 50-43, after trailing by 10 points heading into the final frame. While the teams played each other three times last year, they were grouped in different sections this season. Trinity ran the table in Section 3. South Fayette won Section 1 with a 9-1 slate. The Lions’ lone loss was to rival Chartiers Valley, which enters the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in that section with an 8-2 slate. Overall, the Lions finished 17-5 after beating Canon-McMillan, 55-48, on Feb. 13. The Colts finished 15-7 overall after their win against Thomas Jefferson, 60-40.
In addition to Trinity and CV, the Lions expect Hampton, Mars and Oakland Catholic to be the toughest tournament opponents in Class 5-A. Hampton and Oakland Catholic won section titles while Mars finished runner-up to the Talbots.
Throughout the winter campaign, Sam Kosmacki (13 ppg), Maura Castelluci (11 ppg) and Jordyn Caputo (9 ppg) have led the Lions in the offensive category.
While the trio has meant much to South Fayette’s success so far, Bacco noted, “We need all hands on deck because it is win or go home.”
The secret to any success the Lions’ experience in the playoffs will also have plenty to do with execution of their game plan.
“When we are at our best we are turning teams over and getting points in transition,” Bacco noted. “We have to be able to continue to find ways to do that.”
Mt. Lebanon, likewise, has won as a team. Kenzie Bushee (16 ppg) and Kate Sramac (12 ppg) provide a powerful one-two punch on offense for Lebo. Bushee is a 1,000-point scorer and a Stony Brook recruit. Sramac is headed to Cornell.
“These two players have been huge part of our program, not just this year, but for the past four years,” Oldaker said. “Kenzie and Kate play really well together.”
Without Jamey Napolean, Jess Wilhelm and Alyssa Hyland, however, the starting five does not operate smoothly as it had while negotiating the rough waters of Section 3 in Class 6-A. The Blue Devils won the section with a 9-1 slate, ahead of Peters Township (8-2), Bethel Park (6-4) and Canon-McMillan (4-6). Lebo finished the regular season at 17-5 overall and expects North Allegheny and Pine-Richland to be the frontrunners in the tournament. The Tigers and Rams finished 1-2 in Section 1 with 9-1 records.
“They have to be the favorites to win it,” Oldaker said. “It’s going to be a very tough tournament.”
In a team event, however, Lebo has a decided edge.
“This team plays for each other and truly understands the team concept,” Oldaker stressed. “The players are very unselfish and are continuing to gel as a team. They have fun and want each other to be successful.”
Bethel Park, meanwhile, is a team that is just beginning to gel because it returned one of its playoff-tested resources. After recovering much of the season from ACL surgery, Justina Mascaro returned to the action. In five games, the 1,000-point scorer has averaged 12.4 points per game. “Justina being back gives us those extra points that we have been lacking on occasion,” said Burke, “but we have been pretty balanced all season long in the scoring department.”
Kamryn Lach follows Mascaro in double figures with an 11-point average. Maria Cerro (8.6 ppg) and Rebecca Rodriguez (7.7) contribute on a regular basis while 5-11 freshman Maddie Dziezgowski has provided a strong presence inside for the Hawks, who finished the regular season at 16-6 after Feb. 13’s victory against Montour, 66-38.
While a dark horse in the tournament, the Hawks will strive for success as they have throughout the regular season.
“Really we have just resigned ourselves to the fact that we would have to work very hard for success this year and nothing would be easy,” Burke said. “With that same attitude we will approach the playoffs and fight to stay alive as long as we can.”
Having played North Allegheny and Norwin in its final regular season games, Peters Township knows all too well how hard teams have to work to compete in the Class 6-A tournament. The Indians lost to the Tigers, 57-43, and the Knights, who were last year’s Quad-A champions, 53-50, to finish 14-7 overall.
Makenna Marisa and Lillian Young lead the Indians in double figures with scoring averages of 16 and 11 points per game. Isabella Mills follows with a 9-point average. In addition to the trio, Alexandra Zuccarini and Alyssa Konopka have contributed with senior leadership and strong defensive efforts.
Noting these girls have contributed significantly to the team’s success, Peters floor boss Bert Kendall noted the trend and up-tempo style of play must continue if the Indians are to go far in the tournament because “the top seeds are all very good. We need to look to score in transition often.”
Often, Seton-La Salle has entered the post-season as a favorite to win a WPIAL championship but the Rebels enter the Class AAA tournament as the No. 4 seed out of Section 3 with a sub-par 5-7 record and 5-15 overall mark. To their credit, however, they competed in a league that featured Bishop Canevin, last year’s WPIAL AA champion. The Crusaders won the section with a perfect, 12-0, slate. Canevin finished the regular season with a 16-5 mark.
Of the Crusaders, who boast veterans such as Sarah Green, Brionna Allen, Lauren Gamble and Shamyjha Price, SLS floor boss Whitney Jones said, “Canevin is going to be the team to beat throughout the playoffs. They are athletic, talented and as the season has progressed their outside shooting and half-court offense has been more productive as well.”
Offensive productively has been SLS’s bane this winter although Layne Ziegler at 12.4 points per game and Mia Marzina at 8.8 an outing have led the attack. They are the team’s captains.
“Layni is our motor on the court and sets the tone for us defensively and offensively,” said Jones. “Mia is the heart and soul of the team and carries us emotionally.
“We have had a difficult season,” Jones continued. “But we are most successful when we are playing as a team offensively. When we get into a one-on-one game, it is hard for us to put points on the board. Defensively, we will continue to mix is up and try different rhythms with different zones, traps and schemes.”
Jones looks at the post-season like many other coaches. Teams are all 0-0 but history is on SLS’s side as the Rebels have won five WPIAL titles, four since 2011.
“It always feels like a fresh start heading into WPIALS,” Jones said. “Our girls have had much success in the past and it allows them to relive that and show the young girls what post season is all about.”