Lebo ladies knock off WPIAL champion in state playoffs, 37-34
Alex Ventrone (left) and Sami Simpson (right) struggle to gain control of the basketball during PIAA playoff action at Baldwin High School. Ventrone scored eight points, all in the second half, to help Mt. Lebanon upend the WPIAL champions from Bethel Park, 37-34. Simpson fired in six points, all in the first quarter for the Lady Hawks.
While PIAA experience played a role in Mt. Lebanon’s upset win, 37-34, against WPIAL champion, Bethel Park, in the first round of the girls’ basketball state playoffs; a previous defeat factored more into the outcome.
See, the Lebo ladies didn’t exactly enjoy their early exit from the district playoffs. Chartiers Valley toppled the No. 1 seed, 31-27, in the semifinals.
“We were so disappointed in ourselves and how we played (against CV),” said Lebo floor boss Dori Oldaker. “We’ve been hungry ever since and mad at ourselves.”
And, BP bore the brunt of the Blue Devils’ rage, particularly when Lebo appeared to break open the contest in the third quarter. After edging ahead, 13-12, by intermission, the Blue Devils streaked to a 25-17 advantage thanks to a pair of long-range shots by Margie McCaffrey and Maddie Collins as well as a bucket by Alex Ventrone.
Those third-quarter threes said Oldaker “helped open up things a bit. I told them ‘don’t be afraid to take the big shots.’”
Players such as McCaffrey and Christine Ehland exhibited no fear in taking on the Hawks, who only six days earlier had captured the district crown. McCaffrey, who finished with six points, calmly knocked down a free throw with 22.8 seconds to play and played superb defense throughout the contest. Ehland finished with five points, including a critical 3-pointer in the second stanza.
Battled tested in PIAA action, McCaffrey and Ehland were freshman on Lebo’s state championship squad in 2010. They even show action in the PIAA final, filling in when the Blue Devils ran into foul trouble.
“They understand the whole process,” said Oldaker. “It’s a long season. It either defines you or it ends you.”
Because the Hawks did not shoot the ball well, their season ended, one game after reaching the pinnacle in the program’s history. BP finished 23-4 overall.
“It is a tough way to go out,” explained BP skipper Jonna Burke. “It’s tough to play when you are coming off so big a high as winning your first WPIAL title and have to come back and play your arch rival in the first round of the state playoffs. I feel bad for the girls. They deserved to play longer. It’s a shame that either one of the teams had to lose in this round of the tournament.
“But, no excuses. We did not shoot the ball well. Credit their defense. They always play great defense.”
Neither team scored a point until midway through the first frame. And, BP edged ahead, 6-4, thanks to three baskets from Samantha Simpson. After Megan Marecic stretched the advantage to 8-4, Lebo held the Hawks to two free throws for the remainder of the second stanza.
“We knew it would be a battle,” Oldaker said. “We hoped to make it a battle and not be embarrassed by them. They are a quality team.”
For Lebo, Jordan Holmes is a quality player. On back-to-back, 3-point plays from Holmes, the Blue Devils emerged with a 13-12 halftime lead. Holmes finished with 10 tallies.
“In practice the past 10 days, we pushed her hard,” explained Oldaker. “She really stepped up her game. She made some huge rebounds and put-backs. I love her to death, even though she probably thinks I hate her to death. She showed us the desire we’ve been looking for.”
After Lebo opened up the eight-point edge in the third quarter, each team demonstrated a strong desire to continue their seasons once the final frame commenced. Marecic and Ventrone traded triples but the advantage remained in Lebo’s favor, 33-27. But with six minutes to play, Harper Zimmer, Mariah Penascino and Marecic closed the gap. On Marecic’s hoop, BP tied the game, 34-34, with 1:39 to play.
In the final 50 seconds, however, steals made the difference.
After her swipe, Ventrone was fouled. She buried two free throws. After Holmes and Ehland combined for another steal, McCaffrey sunk another free throw.
And, in the final 20 seconds of play, Lebo prevented BP from taking any serious shots at tying the contest and pushing the game into overtime.
Of Lebo’s second-half surge, Burke said, “that was the difference in the game” and “huge” were the team’s four, 3-pointers. “Those threes changed the game completely. They were the difference in the game. It was such a defensive game that the offenses struggled. They were able to build a lead with those shots and we just were not able to get over that hump and overcome it.”
Oldaker was pleased her team’s defense overcame BP’s last surge.
“There were some key possessions at the end of ballgame,” she said. “We really communicated well and defended strong. They did not get a good shot at the end.”
In the end, Marecic finished with a game-high 13 points. Zimmer finished with seven tallies.
Following the 10-point performance from Holmes, Ventrone and Collins finished with eight each.
With the win, Lebo improved to 23-3 overall. The Blue Devils face Penn-Trafford (20-5), winners over Hollidaysburg, March 12 in the second round of the PIAA playoffs. Site and time is to be determined.
Chartiers Valley (19-7) blasted Allderdice, 70-41, in other Quad-A girls’ first-round state playoff action. Kassidy O’Keefe led the Lady Colts, firing in 15 points, 12 off four, 3-point field goals.
With their win, the Colts advanced to play Gateway in the second round of the PIAA tournament. The Gators edged Erie McDowell, 50-49, in their playoff opener.
Bishop Canevi, the WPIAL Class AA champion, defeated Westmont Hilltop, 51-37, at North Hills. The Lady Crusaders, who led, 24-23, at halftime, used a 13-2 run in the third quarter to break open the contest.
Carly Frose led Canevin with 25 points. Erin Waskowiak followed with 17 tallies.
The Crusaders (23-4) will face General McLane (23-3) in their next PIAA playoff game set for March 12 at a site and time to be determined.
Meanwhile Seton-La Salle (25-2), the defending state champion, cruised past Kane, 67-16, at North Allegheny. The Lady Rebels breezed to a 30-2 lead after one frame and expanded the margin to 49-7 by intermission.
Natalie Piagessi and Naje Gibson each fired in 16 points for the Lady Rebels.
Lebo ladies knock off WPIAL champion in state playoffs, 37-34
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