Maddie Webber didn’t much care for her view of Pitt’s Petersen Events Center Saturday in the second quarter of the WPIAL Class 5A girls basketball championship.
Stuck on the bench for much of the quarter with two fouls, the South Fayette senior guard could only watch as her Lions fell behind by two points at the break.
“I trust my teammates so much,” said Webber, a Villanova recruit and her team’s leading scorer. “I know they’re great players, but it’s hard just watching because you just want to be on the court. I know it was the smartest thing to do because I didn’t want to get my third.”
She never did.
What Webber did do was score 12 second-half points to finish with 16, while classmate Ava Leroux added a game-high 17 points and 13 rebounds, as No. 1-seeded South Fayette rallied to overwhelm No. 2 Oakland Catholic in the second half to emerge with a 64-49 victory and consecutive WPIAL girls basketball titles.
“We felt that if we could ride out and keep the game close it was better to keep her on the bench and prevent a third foul in case something happened in the second half,” said Lions coach Bryan Bennett after securing his school’s third WPIAL title. “Fortunately, we have a lot talented kids that stepped up in the second quarter and kept the game close. Then we were down two at the half, but that was the best possible outcome.
“Give these kids credit, they’re great leaders. At halftime we regrouped and refocused, and we played our game in the second half.”
Junior point guard Lainey Yater added 12 points for South Fayette (24-2), and Ryan Oldaker contributed 7 points off the bench against a tough Oakland Catholic (22-4) full-court press defense.
“It did take a little bit of time to get adjusted to it,” Bennett said of the Eagles defense. “We threw some uncharacteristic passes. Once we settled in, I thought we did a pretty good job. Their speed, we knew that was going to be the key to the game here, handing them the ball because that’s what they do. They want to turn you over with the two different presses. To their credit, they did that early. We found a way to regroup.”
But it wasn’t because of a lack of effort on Oakland Catholic’s part.
Senior guard Alexa Washington, a North Florida recruit, scored a team-high 16 points and Rachel Haver contributed 15 for an Oakland Catholic team that cut the deficit to 35-33 in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
“To be up at the half by two and [Webber] was out of the game, I don’t think we capitalized on some opportunities,” said Eagles coach Eddie Benton Jr., who led his team to its first WPIAL championship appearance since 2017. “We played hard. The girls gave it everything that they had and, honestly and truly, I’m a happy coach.
“Obviously I’m not as happy as I would’ve been if we won it,” he added, “but I tell them all the time, ‘All you can do is your best.’ I feel like every single one of them did their best. I can live with that.”
After having its deficit cut to two, South Fayette surged to a 15-5 run that handed the Lions a 50-38 lead with four minutes left in the game.
“I knew that we had to step up as a team,” said Leroux, an Elon recruit and daughter of former Penguins enforcer Francois Leroux. “I just tried to do the best I could. Do what I could control, box out, get rebounds and try to do the little things to contribute.”
Despite falling short of bringing a seventh WPIAL championship to Oakland Catholic, Washington said she was proud of her team’s effort.
“I’ve been trying to get here for three years,” she said. “Getting here my senior year, it was an accomplishment. Winning would’ve been 10 times nicer, but getting here was something, my aunt got three of them, but at least I got here once.”
For the Lions, winning in 2023 was slightly different than knocking off three-time defending champion Chartiers Valley a year earlier.
No matter how they did it, however, the finished product was equally as satisfying.
“We’ve grown up together, and just experiencing something like this that other kids wish to have is really important to us, and it just makes us stronger,” Webber said.
“We basically played with each other for entire lives,” added Leroux. “We played AAU together, and to win a WPIAL again it just feels awesome.”
John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at email@example.com.