Sports Town will review the 2011-12 school year during July. Today we are visiting the girls basketball season.
Girls' basketball had a very solid year with one WPIAL team (Seton-LaSalle) winning a state championship, and two others (Oakland Catholic and North Catholic) advancing to the state championship game in their respective brackets. Here's a look at a season that had some memorable moments to last a lifetime.
Class AAAA - Five teams qualified for the WPIAL Class AAAA girls basketball playoffs from Section 4-AAAA, and all of them enjoyed some success in the postseason.
Three of the five teams (Mt. Lebanon, Baldwin and Upper St. Clair) advanced to the semifinals of the WPIAL tournament. The Blue Devils eventually won the district with a 58-49 victory over Oakland Catholic at the A.J. Palumbo Center.
Probably the most compelling performance was turned in by the Upper St. Clair Panthers. USC acheived a section record of 5-7 and tied for fourth place with Peters Township.
While the Panthers might have sputtered in the regular season, the team reached its stride in the WPIAL playoffs. The Panthers recorded compelling victories over Section 2-AAAA champion Gateway (55-53) and Section 1-AAAA runner-up Hempfield (44-42). These wins happenned in the tournament's first two rounds.
The playoff victories put Upper St. Clair in the WPIAL semifinals, where the Panthers fell to eventual champion Mt. Lebanon, 49-33. But the two WPIAL wins were enough to put the Panthers in the PIAA Class AAAA state playoffs. In the PIAA tournament, USC defeated Obama Academy (54-26) and also District 10 champion McDowell (57-42). The Panthers then fell to WPIAL runner-up (and eventual state runner-up) Oakland Catholic (67-30).
The future could be a bright one for the Panthers; the team lost just three seniors from the 2011-12 team.
Peters Township defeated Franklin Regional in a play-in game before falling to Oakland Catholic (49-30) in a first-round game. Seven seniors graduated from the Indians at the end of the season.
Baldwin and Mt. Lebanon both participated in the state tournament. The Highlanders defeated City League champion Taylor Allderdice (57-45) in a first-round game before falling to Mt. Lebanon (45-32) in a second-round game. Mt. Lebanon, which had defeated State College Area (54-33) in a first-round game, eventually fell to Oakland Catholic (37-32). The Blue Devils' PIAA loss to Oakland Catholic was essentially a WPIAL Class AAAA championship game rematch.
Class AAA - Archbishop Wood girls basketball coach Jim Ricci paid a high compliment to WPIAL basketball after his team survived two difficult games with WPIAL teams en route to the 2012 Class AAA state championship this past March.
"Let's just say I'm glad we play in District 12 (Philadelphia Public League and Philadelphia Catholic League)," Ricci said. His team survived a 49-46 double-overtime victory over South Park and a 42-37 triumph over Chartiers Valley in the quarterfinals and semifinals (respectively) of the Class AAA state tournament. After getting past those two WPIAL teams, Ricci's Vikings had a relatively easy time. Archbishop Wood recrorded a 52-33 victory over Lancaster Catholic in the championship game.
While there was disappoinment for both the South Park Eagles and the Chartiers Valley Colts, there were plenty of pleasant memories for both teams.
For one thing, both teams had to battle against tough foes after placing second and third (respectively) in the WPIAL tournament. Hopewell defeated Chartiers Valley (40-33) in one WPIAL semifinal. The Vikings then went on to knock off South Park (50-34) in the championship game.
Both South Park and Chartiers Valley picked up the pieces. Each team earned some memorable victories in the state tournament before eventually falling to Archbishop Wood.
South Park knocked off District 10 runner-up Hickory (46-35) in the first round. The Eagles then blistered District 6 champion Hollidaysburg Area (68-47) in the second round. After defeating Westinghouse (64-31) in the first round, Chartiers Valley edged the WPIAL's No. 4 team, Blackhawk. This was a 35-34 victory for Chartiers Valley in the PIAA quarterfinals. Blackhawk was coming off an emotionally charged second-round 47-40 overtime victory over WPIAL champion Hopewell.
Both teams figure to be pretty competitive next year. South Park graduated six seniors, including outside threat Ashley Mikelonis. But two talented starters -- junior Shelby Lindsay and sophomore Halie Torris -- will be back next season for coach Reggie Wells.
It's a different challenge, however, for Chartiers Valley coach Spencer Stefko. His team loses five seniors, but none of them started. So, that's a promising prospect. The Colts, however, are a victim of the school district's success and will be competing on the Class AAAA level next year. Since they are close to the South Hills, the Colts will be moving into Section 4-AAAA. That means Chartiers Valley will twice meet each season Mt. Lebanon, Baldwin, Bethel Park, Peters Township, Upper St. Clair, Canon-McMillan and Moon. Five of those teams reached the WPIAL tournament, and three of them -- Mt. Lebanon, Upper St. Clair and Baldwin -- were in the semifinals. It should be a lot of fun watching some quality basketball in the South Hills next winter.
Class AA - It's not often that terms like "perfect season" and "best in the area regardless of class" can be spoken about the same team. But when the topic is the Seton-LaSalle High School girls basketball team, the terms are entirely approprate. They may even be understated.
The 2011-12 Seton-LaSalle High School girls basketball team played in the toughest section in all of Class AA basketball: Section 5-AA.
The four semifinalists in Class AA -- Seton-LaSalle, Bishop Canevin, Steel Valley and Keystone Oaks -- all came from Section 5-AA. And three of those teams won at least one game in the PIAA Class AA tournament.
The Rebels, though, were a cut above. They ripped through 12 section games, winning each one by a margin of 72.83 points to 35.25 points per game. The Rebels were nearly as dominating against overall competition, outscoring their 30 victims by an average of 70.9 to 39.1 points per game.
Lopsided victories weren't the order of the day against every opponent. But that's where the Rebels showed their mettle in victories over WPIAL Class AAAA championship game opponents Mt. Lebanon and Oakland Catholic. In an early-season game on the Rebels' floor, Seton-LaSalle edged the 2011 Class AAAA state champions (Mt. Lebanon), 60-52. Strangely enough, in the next-to-last regular-season game against Oakland Catholic, the Rebels defeated the homestanding Eagles by the same score.
Only one Class AA team was able to stay within single digits of the Rebels this season: Section 5-AA opponent Bishop Canevin. Three times, the Rebels met the Crusaders. In two regular-season games, Seton-LaSalle won by margins of 68-60 and 61-50. When the two teams met for the WPIAL championship at the A.J. Palumbo Center on March 2, the Rebels pulled away to earn a 73-60 victory.
Throughout the PIAA tournament run, the Rebels faced few challenges with double-digit victories over Greenville (77-31), Conemaugh Township (71-32) and Cranberry (58-42). But in the PIAA semifinal game against Villa Maria Academy, the Rebels were playing the three-time defending PIAA Class AA champions. One of the Victors' victims in 2011 was Seton-LaSalle by a 24-point margin. This time, though, the Rebels fought past Villa Maria and earned a 56-50 victory and a berth in the PIAA Class AA championship game against York Catholic. This meant playing in the state championship game for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.
It didn't matter. Seton-LaSalle overcame an early five-point deficit and then went on a 17-3 run to put the game out of reach. Seton-LaSalle won 71-47. Seton-LaSalle held York Catholic to just 25 percent shooting overall (16 of 62) and 4 of 19 from 3-point range.
Offensively, it was the same story that coach Dennis Squeglia had been stressing all season.
"We average 70 points and none of my players average more than 16 points a game," he said on more than a few occasions. Most of the team held to that gameplan, except for Duquesne University recruit Angela Heintz. The junior led the Rebels with 18 points in the double-digit victory over York Catholic. But the balace was evident everywhere as multiple team members had double-digit scores and rebounds in the victory.
Unfortunately for the rest of Section 5-AA, the WPIAL and PIAA Class AA teams, the Rebels appear to be prepared for a long reign of excellence. Sixteen players competed for the Rebels this season, and 15 of them will be back next season.
As dominant as the Rebels were this season, their section opponents believe they will be ready for the challenge. Each brings back some quality players next season, including: quality starters Erin Waskowiak, Carly Forse and Johnie Olkosky from Bishop Canevin. Waskowiak and Forse will be seniors; Olkosky will be a junior. The Crusaders were 22-6 overall and 10-2 in sectional play.
Steel Valley and Keystone Oaks suffered most of their losses against sectional foes, each finishing with a 7-5 record. But the Ironmen were 19-7 overall, while the Eagles were 20-8. Keystone Oaks joined Seton-LaSalle and Bishop Canevin as the only Class AA teams to earn 20 or more victories.
Class A - Tournament play wasn't so kind to teams from Sports Town's South region. Section 4-A champion Monessen (20-4, 12-0) was bounced out of the WPIAL Class A tournament in the quarterfinals by Riverview. (Riverview was the third-place team from Section 2-A, 56-47.) And Section 3-A runner-up Chartiers-Houston fell to Winchester Thurston 55-50. The Bears were the third-place team from Section 4-A. Their victory over the Bucs happenned in the WPIAL first round. Serra also had an unexpectedly early departure, falling in the first round to Section 1-A runner-up Cornell, 41-34.
Brighter days, however, are ahead. Thirteen of the 17 players on the Monessen roster were underclass athletes. A similar story exists at Chartiers-Houston where 11 of the 14 players on the 2012 team return. Serra Catholic also has reason for optimism as 13 of the team's 15 players will return.