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Girls Basketball: 2017 South Season Recap

Written by Joe Koch on .

Class 6A: If there is one thing that can be said about the quality of girls basketball on the 6A level in the South Hills is that the sport is on solid ground.

Two of the four teams that qualified for the WPIAL Class 6A tournament from Class 6A, Section 3 played well enough to qualify for the PIAA tournament.

Mt.Lebanon won the section with a 9-1 record, and the Blue Devils were 19-7 overall. Peters Township and Canon-McMillan also advanced to the tournament. The Indians finished second with an 8-2 record and were 14-9 overall. And Canon-McMillan was in survival mode by finishing four in the section with a 4-6 record and were 8-15 overall. The Big Macs were eliminated in the first round by Hempfield, 65-47, and Peters Township earned a 55-41 first-round victory over Seneca Valley only to be ousted by eventual PIAA fourth-place qualifier Penn Hills in a 58-55 heart-breaking loss.

But the real success story in the section was the effort turned in by Bethel Park.

Missing top player Justina Mascaro for most of the season because of a knee injury, Mascaro came back on Jan. 30 and engineered a 38-32 victory over Mt. Lebanon. That loss was the only one suffered by the Blue Devils in section play.

Bethel Park then ran off five more victories to earn a spot in the WPIAL 6A championship game. Unfortunately for the Black Hawks, North Allegheny relied on a balanced approach to earn a 50-39 victory over Bethel Park.

Teams that finish among the top five finishers get a second chance in the PIAA tournament, right?

Well, that's true. But the way the bracket was formed, Bethel Park found itself playing a first-round foe in the PIAA tournament that had plenty of motivation, the Penn Hills Indians.

In an odd twist, Bethel Park found itself playing an opponent it had vanquished by a 41-36 score in the WPIAL semifinals. And, to make the experience all the more surreal, the two teams met in this PIAA first-round game on the same floor where the Black Hawks had earned that five-point victory.

This time, though, the result was painfully different for the Black Hawks as Penn Hills rolled to a 43-29 triumph. The Indians' joy was short-lived, however, as WPIAL 6A champion North Allegheny eliminated Penn Hills, 50-38, in the PIAA quarterfinals.

The early elimination from the PIAA tournament did not diminish the Black Hawks' outstanding run. It also was a season that saw coach Jonna Burke win her 400th game as a coach.

As for Mt. Lebanon, the Blue Devils edged Norwin, 47-44, in the WPIAL quarterfinals and were the No. 3 seed from the WPIAL in the PIAA tournament after falling to North Allegheny 61-44 in the quarterfinals. After defeating State College 62-44 in a first-round game, the Blue Devils fell to North Allegheny, 56-52, in the quarterfinals.

Burke loses Mascaro and Becca Rodriguez from the 2016-17 team. The remaining 10 players are scheduled to return.

As for Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker, she loses just two seniors. However, both McKenzie Bushee and Kate Sramac played crucial roles as starters for the Blue Devils. The rest of the players on the 22-player roster return.

Class 5A: There aren't many Pennsylvania high school girls basketball teams play at least 30 games in a season.

To do that, you have to have a team that plays pretty well in both the WPIAL and PIAA girls basketball tournaments.

Trinity could make a case for a solid season, although the Hillers likely appreciated their efforts in the PIAA tournament more than they did in the WPIAL tournament.

The champions of Class 5A, Section 3 with a record of 12-0, Trinity advanced to the WPIAL semifinals where it fell to eventual WPIAL champion Chartiers Valley, 47-35.

When the Colts defeated Oakland Catholic, 52-36, to win the WPIAL tournament, the victory relegated the Hillers to the No. 3 qualifying position in the PIAA tournament.

What's that expression about second chances?

Coach Bob Miles' Hillers made the most of that cliche as they ran off four successive victories before playing Archbishop Wood in the PIAA Class 5A championship game.

Along the way, Trinity got a chance to play against some familiar rivals. First up was Chartiers Valley in a second-round game. As it turned out, this game would decide the impromptu season series for the two teams as Trinity had earned a 58-41 victory over Chartiers Valley on Dec. 27 in the California University Hoopfest.

With the series now tied following Chartiers Valley's victory in the WPIAL semifinals, Trinity had a chance to earn more than just bragging rights, and the Hillers did just that with a 50-37 victory.

Following that victory, the Hillers took down Philadelphia Catholic League stalwart Archbishop Carroll, the No. 3 team from District 12, 44-39, in the quarterfinals. Next up was South Fayette, the No. 5 qualifier from the WPIAL. The Hillers defeated the Lions, 61-51, in the semifinals. The victory was the second of the season for Trinity. In a late-season, non-section game, Trinity earned a 50-43 triumph. The Hillers found themselves playing yet another Philadelphia Catholic League power in the championship game. This wouldn't turn out so well as Archbishop Wood, the No. 1 team from District 12 defeated the Hillers, 34-26.

The loss may have been disappointing, but the result left the Hillers with a 26-4 record. Thirty games. In the pantheon that is high school girls basketball, few teams from Pennsylvania attain the three-decade standard the Hillers reached.

Before its elimination from the PIAA tournament, Chartiers Valley was writing a very solid story for itself. After finishing second behind South Fayette in Class 5A, Section 1 with an 8-2 record, the Colts had to beat Thomas Jefferson, 53-42, in a first-round game. That earned the Colts a rematch with South Fayette, and it would give the Colts a chance to win the season series as the two teams had split during the regular season. South Fayette won the first game, 71-62, on the Colts' floor, and the Colts earned a 50-49 heart-stopping victory in the section finale for both teams.

A third game with South Fayette loomed, but Chartiers Valley had to play the same opponent -- Thomas Jefferson -- for the second time in eight days. Chartiers Valley won the first game, 60-40, in the regular-season finale, and the Colts survived the rematch with the Jaguars, 53-42, in a first-round game.

That victory set up the third meeting with South Fayette, and the Colts rolled to a 47-35 victory to take the season series and advance to the semifinals where they defeated Trinity and then went on to beat Oakland Catholic, 52-36, in the WPIAL championship game.

"It's a team with great heart," Chartiers Valley coach Dan Slain said. "They refuse to quit. That's just the mental toughness of this team. Mental toughness is what gets you through situations when you're down seven at the half. You come out and say, 'This who we are.' "

Mackenzie Wagner displayed the toughness Slain referenced by scoring eight of her game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter. Her effort highlighted a 20-3 run for the Colts that put the game out of reach and gave them the first WPIAL title. Not only that, 5-5 freshman guard Megan McConnell scored 16 points and was fearless in going inside against taller opponents.

"Megan was fighting her way through arms and legs and peoples that were 5 to seven inches bigger than her," Slain said. "That's just Megan."

The victory gave the Colts a measure of revenge against Oakland Catholic. On Jan. 21, the Eagles edged the Colts, 41-33.

Slain reflected on his team's WPIAL title and what it meant to his players.

"I told them this is where you get to make history," he said. "To be 15-, 16-, 17-years old to make history like this. Now you established tradition."

But as well as the Colts had played in rematches, Trinity showed its mettle with its 50-37 victory over Chartiers Valley in the second round en route to the state championship game.

Class 4A: When it came to the WPIAL playoffs for South-area teams, four teams qualified for the WPIAL Class 4A tournament, but only two of them played well enough to advance to the PIAA tournament.

Keystone Oaks had a stellar regular season, taking top honors in Class 4A, Section 3 with a 14-0 record. When the Golden Eagles completed their last game, they finished with a 20-4 record.

South Park finished three games behind Keystone Oaks with an 11-3 record. The Eagles finished with a 16-10 record. but they had a more successful playoff run with first- and second-round victories, respectively, over Burrell, 66-44, and Ambridge, 64-57. The path for WPIAL glory, though, ended with a 70-56 loss to Blackhawk in the semifinals.

That loss relegated the Eagles to the No. 4 spot from the WPIAL in the PIAA Class 4A tournament. Their first-round task was a tough one, and they fell to Villa Maria, the eventual PIAA runner-up, 60-34.

Keystone Oaks, South Park's section rival, drew a first-round bye, but the Golden Eagles were ousted from the WPIAL tournament by Beaver, 58-45.

That put Keystone Oaks in the PIAA tournament as the No. 7 team, and the Eagles' PIAA trek was short-lived with a 53-38 loss to WPIAL champion Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the first round.

Class 3A: Bishop Canevin's girls basketball team found itself in a familiar role as the Crusaders would enjoy a long run in the postseason.

Awarded the top seed in the WPIAL Class 3A tournament, the Crusaders rewarded the basketball committee's confidence with victories over Riverside, 54-25, section rival Carlynton, 45-24, and Neshannock, 65-36, to win the WPIAL title, just the third in school history and their first in Class 3A.

That WPIAL success came on the heels of a 12-0 record in Class 3A, Section 3, and led to four more victories in the PIAA tournament over Central Cambria, 51-30, East Allegheny, 51-25, Carlynton, 55-29 and West Shamokin, 43-39.

The successful run, though, ended with a 62-56 loss to Philadelphia Catholic League power Neumann-Goretti, 62-56, in the PIAA Class 3A championship game. The loss left the Crusaders with a 23-6 record.

Prospects for success next season would appear to be bright as eight of the players on the Crusaders' 10-player roster are scheduled to return.

They will, however, have a new leader. Less than a month after the season ended, coach Tim Joyce was fired after 15 seasons. He will, however, be coaching this season as an assistant for his daughter, Fox Chapel coach Jennifer Joyce O'Shea.

Charleroi qualified for the No. 7 team from the WPIAL after earning a 51-50 first-round victory over Seton-LaSalle and falling to eventual WPIAL runner-up Neshannock, 65-36.

Those results left the Cougars with a PIAA first-round game against former WPIAL member West Shamokin. The 48-35 loss to the Wolves finished the Cougars' season at 19-6.

Charleroi came out of a tough section that featured East Allegheny, which took the section with a 12-0 record. The Cougars were second at 10-2. The Cougars graduated just two players from the 10-player roster.

Class 2A: Players often are told to focus on the present when getting ready for an opponent. But it likely would have been understandable for the older players on the Chartiers-Houston girls basketball team to remember what had happened the last time the Bucs had played Vincentian.

In 2015, the game was a late-season non-section game played at the Royals' tiny gym on a Saturday afternoon.

The game was practically over after the first quarter as Vincentian rolled to an 86-43 triumph. Now, two years later, the two teams met again. Only this time, the game was being played at the Petersen Events Center on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh with a WPIAL Class 2A championship awaiting the winner.

Chartiers-Houston was up to the challenge, scoring the game's first seven points, and steadily building an advantage that ended in a 47-35 victory, and the first WPIAL girls basketball title in the school's history.

Jules Montecalvo started the run at the game's outset with a 3-point field goal, and the Bucs gradually built upon that early momentum.

"We talked to Jules all week about visualizing her shot going in," Bucs' coach Laura Montecalvo said. "She is an excellent shooter. We wanted to get the ball to her early in the game and we knew she could knock it down to get us momentum early on."

Alexa Williamson has been a force throughout her career with the Bucs, and she showed that ability again in the championship game with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

Chartiers-Houston's quick tempo played havoc with Vincentian's offense as the Bucs forced the Royals to commit 16 first-half turnovers. That was no illusion as far as Montecalvo was concerned.

"I felt like we focused on having a quick start," she said. "We wanted to get them back on their heels."

Chartiers-Houston advanced to the PIAA Class 2A tournament along with two other South-area teams, Washington and California. Washington, the No. 6 team from the WPIAL, was ousted in the first round by District 10 champion West Middlesex, 43-32. California, the No. 7 team, suffered the same fate with a 60-17 loss to eventual PIAA champion runner-up Bishop McCort.

Chartiers-Houston made it to the second round. The Bucs defeated District 9 foe Cranberry, 56-18, in the first round before falling to District 6 runner-up Bellwood Antis, 80-66.

Chartiers-Houston's loss to Bellwood Antis ended the Bucs' season at 24-3. The good news for Montecalvo and her team as that seven of the nine players on the varsity roster at the end of the season, including Williamson and Vulcano, both of whom will be seniors.

Washington, which finished at 13-12, has every player returning from its 10-player roster. California, which finished second in its section and concluded its season with a 20-5 record, had 16 players on its roster. Twelve of them will be back next season.

Class 1A: Three South-area teams -- West Greene, Geibel Catholic and Jefferson-Morgan -- qualified for the WPIAL 1A girls tournament. West Greene placed third in the District 7 tournament and advanced to the PIAA Class 1A tournament. But the Pioneers, who finished section play with a 10-0 record and 19-6 overall, lost in the first round of the PIAA tournament to District 9 runner-up Otto-Eldred, 61-57. The great news for West Greene is that all of the players on its nine-player roster return next season.