For Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the fourth time turned out to be the charm Tuesday night against WPIAL Class 3A champion Avonworth.
Facing the section rival Antelopes (20-6) for the fourth time this season, Chargers coach Don Eckerle didn’t panic when he saw his team again fall into an early hole. Eckerle said OLSH (21-7) had gotten off to terrible starts against Avonworth before, but he felt this game would be a different story if the Chargers could get some momentum going in the first quarter.
Claudia Ierullo gave OLSH just enough of a boost with back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first, then the Chargers dominated the rest of the game while shutting out the Antelopes for the entire second quarter en route to a 39-23 win in the second round of the PIAA playoffs at North Hills Middle School. OLSH allowed only four points combined in the second and third quarters, shutting down Avonworth standouts Greta O’Brien and Becca Goetz with an inspired defensive effort.
“Claudia’s two shots in the first quarter really changed the game around. It gave us the momentum we’ve been looking for,” Eckerle said. “We’re also known for our defense as well. I know they got a lot of ink for having the lowest-scoring defensive average, but we were [No. 2].
“We put together a really nice game plan defensively, and the girls executed it to perfection.”
Kyleigh Nagy and Mia Grisafi led the Chargers with 8 points apiece in the win, but it was senior forward Emma Ficorilli who delivered the most memorable basket of the game with a tough three-point play in the fourth quarter to put an end to a rally by the Antelopes. After taking a 30-16 lead into the fourth, OLSH went cold offensively as Avonworth trimmed the deficit to eight before Ficorilli’s momentum-shifting shot. She then added another bucket moments later to put the finishing touches on the win.
“I kept saying that if we had a good first quarter, I knew we could be in the game,” Eckerle said. “Kyleigh is usually the main scorer. We knew they would take her out of the game, but we’ve got other kids who can play as well.”
The Chargers now will move on to the PIAA quarterfinals Friday to face District 6 runner-up Westmont Hilltop (27-2), which advanced with a 53-42 overtime win against District 5 champion Chestnut Ridge.
Other Class 3A
• Shady Side Academy rolled to a one-sided victory for the second week in a row, as freshman point guard Karis Thomas poured in 27 points to lead the Bulldogs (25-3) to a 59-37 win against District 10 champion Mercyhurst Prep (20-6) at Slippery Rock University. Shady Side now will try to take down another district champ when the Bulldogs take on District 6 champion River Valley (27-2) Friday with a spot in the semifinals on the line.
• Senior forward Regan Atkins scored a game-high 26 points for Laurel (24-4), but the Spartans’ season came to an end in a heartbreaking 56-54 defeat to River Valley. Hannah Artley led River Valley with 16 points to go with 14 from Abby Pynos and 13 from Ava Persichetti.
• Mt. Lebanon appeared to be on its way to another potential upset at North Hills after OLSH’s win over Avonworth, as the Blue Devils (18-9) raced to a 19-11 lead against WPIAL champion North Allegheny (22-5). But the Tigers turned the tables in a hurry with a 19-0 run to start the second quarter before pulling away for a 57-34 win. Pitt recruit Jasmine Timmerson scored 17 of her game-high 19 points in the first half, thrilling the crowd in the second quarter with a dazzling sequence of highlight-reel shots, steals and assists. Junior Kellie McConnell also added 18 points while doing most of her damage in the second half, sending North Allegheny to the PIAA quarterfinals for the sixth time in eight seasons under coach Spencer Stefko.
• Lauren Palangio and Kendall Berger each have enjoyed outstanding seasons for Norwin (23-4), and Tuesday may have been their finest work yet. Palangio scored a game-high 24 points to go with 17 from Berger, and the Knights used a 24-point surge in the second quarter to take control of the game en route to a 57-43 win against District 3 fifth-place finisher Lebanon (27-3) at Bald Eagle High School. The win sets up a fourth showdown against section rival North Allegheny Friday for a spot in the PIAA semifinals. Norwin won the first matchup Jan. 3 at home, 53-32, then lost the rematch Jan. 26 on the road, 52-45. The Tigers then won the third meeting between the teams in the WPIAL semifinals, 38-36, before going on to win the WPIAL title.
• Seemingly playing with something to prove after a WPIAL championship defeat, Upper St. Clair (23-3) put together a stellar defensive performance to pick up a 42-31 win against District 1 fourth-place finisher Pennsbury (21-9) at Chambersburg High School. Panthers sophomore Rylee Kalocay followed up her 30-point outburst in a first-round win with a game-high 25 points, helping Upper St. Clair advance to take on District 3 champion Cedar Cliff (28-0) Friday in the quarterfinals.
• Emilee Fedrizzi led all scorers with 23 points, knocking down two 3-pointers while finishing 7 of 8 from the free-throw line in a 42-29 win for WPIAL champion Shenango (24-4) against District 10 third-place finisher Lakeview (19-8) at Westminster College. Kylee Rubin also tacked on 12 points for the Wildcats, who will carry a 15-game winning streak into a PIAA quarterfinal matchup Friday against Greensburg Central Catholic.
• After Erica Gribble led the way for Greensburg Central Catholic (22-6) with 25 points in an opening-round win, Mya Morgan took over as the team’s go-to scorer with a game-high 33 points in the Centurions’ 61-48 win against District 10 runner-up Maplewood (21-6). Gribble also chipped in 14 points as Greensburg Central raced to a 24-14 lead after the first quarter and never looked back.
• Playing under a strange set of circumstances after both teams showed up wearing dark-colored uniforms, Burgettstown (21-7) was forced to play wearing host school New Castle’s white jerseys, while District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic (23-4) was awarded a technical foul to start the game due to the Blue Devils’ error. Burgettstown hung around in the first half, but Bella Magestro erupted for 24 of her game-high 29 points in the second half to lead Kennedy to a 56-39 win. Kaitlyn Nease finished with a team-leading 15 points for the Blue Devils to go with 14 from Jill Frazier.
Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.