Greensburg Central Catholic’s opponent Monday in the PIAA Class 2A semifinals has an ocean of talent, but it was actually a Layke that ultimately sank the Centurions’ state championship hopes.
Layke Fields, a 6-foot-1 forward and one of the top sophomores in the state, continued her torrid postseason run by scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to lead Kennedy Catholic back to the finals for the second year in a row after a 56-44 win against Greensburg Central Catholic at North Allegheny High School.
The loss ended a somewhat unexpected deep PIAA run for a young Greensburg C.C. squad that lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals and entered the state playoffs as the No. 5 qualifier from the district. The Centurions (24-6) were trying to reach the PIAA title for the third time and first time since getting there back-to-back seasons in 1996 and 1997.
“The moment I don’t think was ever too big for them,” Greensburg C.C. coach Chris Skatell said of a team that started four underclassmen, including one freshman. “They’re always ready to go play. I thought we had a hell of a first half. But I always tell them, the first five minutes of the second half really determines what happens in the game.”
Skatell couldn’t be more correct in this one. Greensburg C.C. played toe-to-toe with the District 10 champions in the first half, but Kennedy Catholic (25-4) used a 6-0 run to begin the third quarter to extend what had been a three-point halftime lead to a 30-21 advantage. Fields began to have a field day that quarter. She scored all six of those points and tallied 10 of Kennedy Catholic’s 16 third-quarter points while helping the Golden Eagles increase their lead to 40-30 heading to the fourth.
“I thought we did a great job on her in the first half. She was frustrated. But she’s a handful,” Skatell said of Fields, who plays AAU for the Western Pennsylvania Bruins like many top WPIAL players.
Fields has been terrific throughout the season, averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds a game. But she has been nearly flawless, at least shooting the ball, the past two games. Fields went 15 of 15 from the field on her way to a 30-point effort in the quarterfinals, and against Greensburg C.C. Fields went 10 of 14. She converted her first three shots of the game Monday, giving her 18 consecutive made field goals.
“I think the biggest thing right now with Layke is, we’re getting her the ball in positions where she doesn’t have to put in on the floor a lot, and when she can just catch it and go up,” said Kennedy Catholic coach Justin Magestro, whose team will play for their first title Thursday when they take on Homer-Center in Hershey, Pa. “She’s just so strong and her hands are so good and her footwork is so good. If you get her the ball when she is going downhill and she can turn and finish, she’s almost unstoppable.”
But it wasn’t just Fields. Kennedy Catholic, which has won 23 games in a row, finished 20 of 34 from the field (58%). Sophomore Monique Vincent added 13 points (she was 8 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final 1:16) and freshman Bella Magestro chipped in with 10.
Junior Mya Morgan led Greensburg C.C. with 20 points and freshman Erica Gribble had 14. The Centurions were 16 of 44 from the field (36%).
Greensburg C.C. shot the ball well early, with Morgan and junior Avery Davis both connecting on two first-quarter 3-pointers. The second of Davis’ 3s came in the final seconds of the quarter to pull the Centurions even at 14-14. The Centurions took their only two leads of the game in the second quarter. But just after going ahead with 1:06 left in the half, the Centurions gave up a bucket to Fields and a 3-pointer to Vincent just before the buzzer. That 5-0 spurt then ballooned to an 11-0 run courtesy of Fields’ dominant start to the third quarter.
Greensburg C.C. may have fallen a bit short of its ultimate goal, but the playoff experience this young group got over the past few weeks could prove to be invaluable.
“I certainly hope so,” Skatell said. “My good fortune is, most of them are basketball junkies.”
• Norwin (24-4) nearly pulled off one of the biggest stunners of the tournament before eventually seeing its season come to a close in a 55-47 overtime loss to District 3 champion Cedar Cliff (30-0) at Altoona. Norwin didn’t back down from the Colts, who had not surrendered more than 41 points in a game this season and won its previous three PIAA games by an average of 25 points. Lauren Palangio scored 20 points and Kendall Berger chipped in with 11 for Norwin, which was outscored, 8-0, in overtime. The Knights fell behind by seven points after one quarter before rallying to take a 22-20 halftime lead. Sophomore Olivia Jones scored 19 points for Cedar Cliff, while Alexis Buie had 12 and Taylor Ferraro 10. The Colts will take on Archbishop Carroll Friday in the championship.
• District 6 River Valley (29-2) eliminated its third WPIAL opponent in a row by slipping past Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (22-8), 44-38, at Kiski Area. OLSH, the WPIAL’s fifth-place finisher, was aiming to reach the PIAA final for the first time. OLSH led, 33-32, after three quarters, but River Valley outscored the Chargers, 12-5, in the fourth to claim the win. The Chargers had not given up more than 43 points in any of their previous 11 games. Kyleigh Nagy paced OLSH with 14 points and Mia Grisafi added 11, while Ava Persichetti led River Valley with 23. River Valley, which also beat Laurel and Shady Side Academy in these playoffs, will play for its first title Thursday against Dunmore. River Valley is a merger of Blairsville and Saltsburg and is in its second season.