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 - It can only get better for the Moon Area High School girls basketball team.
Playing in what has been the strongest of the four WPIAL Class AAAA sections this past season, the Tigers had a very rough season, finishing with an overall record of 4-18 and a 1-11 Section 4-AAAA mark against such opponents as Mount Lebanon, Baldwin, Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair.
And, it will get better. Moon's 16-player roster had no senior members this past season, and eight of them were freshmen.
Besides a thrilling 49-47 section victory over Canon-McMillan, the Tigers defeated Montour (62-60), Sto-Rox (64-60) and West Allegheny (54-35).
Class AAA - It was a good year for Section 2-AAA in WPIAL girls basketball.
It seemed that every night a good game was in store, especially when these teams met up in sectional games.
The standings reflect that parity. Only Ellwood City (0-12) and Ambridge (2-10) were out of the playoff picture. Everyone else -- Hopewell (10-2), Blackhawk (10-2), New Castle (8-4), Central Valley (6-6) and Beaver Area (6-6) -- played well enough to advance to the WPIAL Class AAA tournament.
When they got there, the above teams stepped up. All of them won at least one tournament game, and two of them -- Hopewell and Blackhawk -- reached the semfinals with Hopewell eventually winning the WPIAL Class AAA title with a 50-34 victory over South Park.
Blackhawk, however, did get some measure of revenge as the Cougars defeated Hopewell 47-40 in overtime in a PIAA second-round game at the A.J. Palumbo Center. The Cougars and the Vikings -- who shared section championship -- played three times and the Cougars won two of them. Two of the three games were decided by fewer than 10 points.
It shapes up to be another solid season next year for these two teams. Blackhawk graduated just one player from a 13-player roster, and that player had not been a starter. Hopewell is in a similar situation. Starter Jharrin Gill graduated along with Paige Levinger. Everyone else is back, including three-sport superstar Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who is back for her senior year. A first team Class AAA all-state selection for the second straight season, Walker-Kimbrough averaged 25.6 points a game. She scored 126 points in four WPIAL tournament games, an average of 31.5 points a game.
Class AA - Riverside survived a tight battle in Section 2-AA only to see its WPIAL Class AA tournament quest end quickly with a 76-61 loss to Steel Valley in the Class AA quarterfinals. Third-place finisher Mohawk saw a similar end to its tournament with a 63-27 quarterfinal loss to Bishop Canevin.
There was some solace for the section, however. Runner-up Beaver Falls won first-round and quarterfinals victories over South Side Beaver (53-32) and Quaker Valley (61-47), respectively. Unfortunately, the next opponent was Seton-LaSalle, and the Rebels numbered the Tigers as one of their 30 victime with a 76-36 pounding. Reaching the semifinals put the Tigers in the PIAA Class AA playoffs, where they drew Dstrict 9 champion Cranberry in the first round. The Tigers suffered a heartbreaking 45-43 loss to end their season.
New Brighton reached the quarterfinals before falling to Steel Valley, 79-52 New Brighton missed the PIAA playoffs by one place.
The section champion Panthers had 17 players on this year's team, and lose four of them including standout forward Sam Weir. But with junior guard Alex Deep among the returnees, Coach John Wolf should have some reason to feel optimistic.
Similar feelings likely exist for Mohawk coach Mike O'Lare whose 18-player roster loses just two seniors.
Section 4-AA also was balanced with Bentworth taking top honors with a 10-2 record. Beth-Center and Washington tied for second at 9-3 and Charleroi qualified for the WPIAL tournament as the fourth-place team with an 8-4 record.
None of those teams went very far, though. Charleroi lost to Burrell (45-40) in a preliminary round game. The same fate happened to Beth Center in a 38-14 loss to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Washington also lost to Mohawk 28-24 in the preliminary round. Bentworth's quest ended in the first round with a 50-36 loss to Avonworth.
Class A - There's no two ways about it: the 2011-12 basketball season for the Fort Cherry High girls basketball team will go down as one of the most memorable in school history.
This was a team that raced through Section 3-A with a 12-0 record and finished with an overall standard of 25-3.
Coach Bob Miles put together a senior-laden team sparked by guards Beka Bellhy, Kelly Slates and Jessie Merckle along with forward Carolena Gasbarro.
Along with Bellhy's younger sisters (sophomore Rachel and freshman Tina) and a fine supporting cast, the Rangers won 17 games in a row before falling to an old nemesis, North Catholic (53-45), in the one-day Pittsburgh Classic at Ambridge High School on Jan. 28.
In the midst of this outstanding season, Gasbarro was going through a personal tragedy and her team was with her every step of the way. Her mother Madeline was in the final stages of a battle with adenocarcinoma, a fight she would lose on Feb. 9. A few hours earlier, Carolena and the team's other seniors had been honored on Senior Night. In the Senior Night game, the Fort Cherry team defeated archrival Chartiers-Houston 60-38.
A six-game winning streak took the Rangers to the WPIAL semifinals where they lost to another strong team from the North region, Vincentian Academy (63-57). Despite the loss, the Rangers advanced to the PIAA playoffs where they defeated Berlin Brothersvalley (58-35) and another old nemesis, Bishop Guilfoyle (41-30) to set up yet another game with North Catholic in the PIAA Class A semifinals.
In addition to the earlier loss to the Trojanettes, the Rangers had lost to North Catholic a year earlier in the WPIAL championship game, 49-43. This time, the score was different but the result was the same as North Catholic held on to beat the Rangers 57-51 and end their season.
There is some heartache, but some solace, too. Merckle won the PIAA Class AA championship in the girls javelin and Jenna Lucas, a sophomore guard on the basketball team, finished sixth in the same event.
This team will have 10 players returning. That includes Lucas and the younger Bellhy sisters.
One team advanced to the second round of the WPIAL tournament, but it wasn't the squad that most people would expect. Section-1A champion Quigley Catholic had raced through section play with a 12-0 record and an overall mark of 18-5. But the Spartans ran up against a team that had lost four games to WPIAL finalists and PIAA semifinalists North Catholic and Vincentian while tying for third place with St. Joseph in Section 2-A. It was a close game, but the Spartans dropped a 54-50 decision.
The team that actually ended up surprising the most observers was Cornell. Cornell shocked Serra Catholic, 41-34. Cornell then dropped a 60-26 decision to Fort Cherry in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
(Photo: Freshman Chassidy Omogrosso cheers after Blackhawk defeated Hopewell in the second round of the PIAA playoffs. Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette.)