HERSHEY, Pa. — When you overcome as much adversity as Blackhawk has to make it as far as the Cougars did this season, there truly is no shame in second place.

In the immediate aftermath of a 53-45 loss against Philadelphia Catholic League champion Lansdale Catholic (29-2) in Saturday’s PIAA Class 4A championship game, most of Blackhawk’s players were in tears while accepting the runner-up trophy. But one day when these Cougars look back on all they accomplished, they’ll realize just how special of a season this was.

Playing as a massive underdog in the eyes of many, the Cougars (25-5) gave the Crusaders everything they could handle Saturday afternoon at Giant Center. Blackhawk actually held a three-point lead at halftime before going cold in the third quarter. The Cougars battled back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth, but their valiant comeback attempt fell just short.

Blackhawk’s Alena Fusetti led the Cougars with 20 points. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

“It’s a lot harder than people realize to come here back to back, let alone to win one,” said Lansdale coach Eric Gidney, referencing the Crusaders’ loss in last year’s Class 4A final. “All the aspirations in the world don’t mean you’re going to walk out with one of these [gold medals]. … To win the whole darn thing and see them accomplish that — they’re going to remember that for the rest of their lives. And that’s the greatest thing to me.”

Blackhawk clearly missed the offensive punch provided by senior guard-forward Quinn Borroni, who missed the postseason with a torn Achilles. The Mercyhurst recruit was the basketball equivalent of a Swiss-army knife for the Cougars, but they still found a way to make it to the WPIAL and PIAA championship games without her — a testament to coach Steve Lodovico’s well-earned reputation as a brilliant strategist and master motivator.

“[I just told them] I love them and that I’m proud of them,” Lodovico said. “There was a lot of adversity that we went through this year. But the heart and the character and the pride of those girls wouldn’t let them quit.

“We played a great first half against a really good team with an unbelievable player [Gabby Casey]. They just made more shots down the stretch than we did.”

Blackhawk’s Piper Romigh tries to get around Lansdale Catholic’s Gabby Casey. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Casey, the 2022-23 Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year, was a thorn in Blackhawk’s side all afternoon. The St. Joseph’s recruit scored a game-high 28 points and pulled in 16 rebounds. Junior guard Alena Fusetti led the Cougars with 20 points and freshman Aubree Hupp added 11 starting in place of Borroni.

“It’s indescribable,” Casey said. “The win is better than the stats. … [Blackhawk is] a great team. It was a great game of runs. We didn’t expect it to be easy, but it was a great time.

“It’s been an amazing ride.”

It didn’t take long for the Cougars to prove they belonged on the same court with the Crusaders, as they took a 10-9 lead early in the second quarter before stretching it to 23-16 on a jumper by Fusetti. Lansdale responded with a 6-0 run, but a basket by senior point guard Kassie Potts gave Blackhawk a 25-22 halftime lead.

Casey tied the score with a 3-pointer early in the third quarter, then Hupp answered with one of her own. The Cougars then went through an extended dry spell, with several shots rolling in and out of the hoop in a stretch of nearly eight minutes.

“We tried to get the ball to our three scorers — either Hupp, [Fusetti] or [Potts]. We just went on a cold streak,” Lodovico said. “We know against the really good teams, they’re going to capitalize. And they did.”

Blackhawk poses with its second-place trophy after a 53-45 loss to Lansdale Catholic in the PIAA Class 4A championship. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

As Blackhawk’s offense fizzled, the Crusaders strung together a 13-0 run that carried into the fourth quarter. Fusetti finally ended the scoring drought with a tough three-point play, but the Cougars trailed by 10 midway through the fourth.

Another three-point play by Fusetti cut Lansdale’s lead to 46-39, then a 3-pointer by Potts made it a four-point game with 3:18 to play. Fusetti added another 3 to make it a 9-0 run for Blackhawk, but the one-point deficit was as close as the Cougars would come.

A layup by Casey put the Crusaders’ lead at four with 1:06 remaining, then Olivia Boccella knocked down four free throws to polish off the 53-45 win for Lansdale’s first state title.

“No matter what, we weren’t giving up. We were giving it our all,” Fusetti said. “We’ll be back.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.