A school with the initials OC was oh-so-close to achieving its grandest goals on the basketball court last season.

Oakland Catholic won a section title and finished with 25 wins, but the Eagles saw their ride to a WPIAL title derailed in the championship game and their hopes for a PIAA title dashed in the semifinals.

All that did, junior London Creach said, was provide the Eagles with added motivation this season.

“Every practice, [Coach Eddie Benton] always mentions, ‘We’ve got to get our get back’ ever since we lost in the championship,” Creach said. “I think it’s definitely a chip on our shoulders, especially mine being the only one back.”

Benton’s bunch includes just one returning starter (Creach) after Oakland Catholic graduated a group of six seniors from last season’s team. One of those graduates, all-state pick Alexa Washington, is already playing a major role as a freshman at Division I North Florida. 

Benton, in his second season, has had to rebuild his roster, but this team doesn’t fit the mold of a team being in “rebuilding mode.” In fact, the Eagles have soared to a 6-0 start (2-0 in Class 5A Section 3) and are one of only two unbeaten teams in WPIAL Class 5A (Lincoln Park is 7-0). The latest victory came in the form of a 63-41 non-section win at Class 6A Mt. Lebanon on Thursday, a game that was tied late in the first half before Oakland Catholic pulled away.

“I think the biggest thing is staying consistent with what we do and just keep grinding it out. And then we just hope eventually the other team starts to fatigue, and that’s pretty much our game plan every game,” said Benton, a former Perry Traditional Academy and University of Vermont star.

It’s a game plan that has not failed Oakland Catholic yet. The Eagles have won all of their games by at least 22 points and their average margin of victory is 38 points. Among all WPIAL teams in the largest two classifications, the Eagles boast the No. 1 scoring defense (30.3 points per game) and No. 2 scoring offense (68 ppg). A season ago, they scored 63 points per game and gave up 43.5.

“I just think it’s been how hard we all play collectively,” Benton said. “I think our freshmen are playing really well. London is London. I think we have an inside-outside presence. I think that helps us a lot. I think that’s been our strength.”

Raygen Hintemeyer is one of only two seniors on a young Oakland Catholic team. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Creach, a 5-foot-8 forward with a handful of Division I offers, is one of the top players in Class 5A. Creach is a slasher with a much-improved 3-point shot who Benton said will become a complete player once her ball-handling improves. Josie Fontana, a 6-2 sophomore forward, has emerged as a key contributor, scoring in double-figures in three of the six games. Those two, along with senior guard Raygen Hintemeyer, started in the win against Mt. Lebanon. Senior guard Mars Logan and junior guard Alayla Bivins saw extended minutes, as well. Hintemeyer and Logan are the team’s lone seniors.

Of the 15 players on the Oakland Catholic roster, 10 are freshmen or sophomores. Because of that, veteran players like Creach have slid into leadership roles this season.

“Being the only starter back, I had to switch my mentality and really become a leader and lead everyone else,” said Creach, a cousin of Josh Creach, a former all-state player at Beaver Falls.

Oakland Catholic’s strong freshman class is headed by guard Kaylee DeAngelo and guard-forward Mia LeDonne, two of the top ninth graders in the WPIAL. It took neither player much time to jump into the starting lineup. Those two, along with Creach, rank among the team’s top scorers as they all average between 10 and 12 points a game. 

“Those two are very, very good,” Benton said of DeAngelo and LeDonne. “I say it all the time, ‘I’m glad you’re on our side.’”

Against Mt. Lebanon, LeDonne pumped in a career-high 18 points and DeAngelo added 12, all on four 3-pointers. DeAngelo already has a Division I offer from Delaware.

On making a quick impact, LeDonne said, “At first I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a freshman.’ But I’ve always had the mentality that I’m going to play older than I am on the court. I’m not going to play like a freshman. I’m not going to be timid. I’m going to go out there and play my game and do what I know how to do. Just push the ball, push the tempo and be myself.”

Mia LeDonne is a promising freshman at Oakland Catholic who scored a career-high 18 points in a 63-41 win at Mt. Lebanon last Thursday. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

That freshmen class includes several players with family connections to standout players and coaches. DeAngelo’s sister, Alyssa, plays at Fairmont State and leads NCAA Division II in scoring. LeDonne’s dad, Jon, is Pine-Richland’s football coach. Addison Crummie’s father, Sean, is the basketball coach at Cornell High School. And Rhyan Sledge’s brother, R.J., is the starting point guard for defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 1A champion Imani Christian.

Oakland Catholic will travel to Delaware this week for the Governors Challenge, which promotes itself as being the largest holiday basketball tournament in the country. Its next set of section games include a visit to Penn-Trafford (7-1) and a home contest against McKeesport (5-1). Oakland Catholic beat McKeesport four times last season, eliminating the Tigers from both the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs.

These soaring Eagles may have put last season in their rear-view mirror, but despite the roster upheaval, the goals remain the same.

“This is a different year, different personnel,” Benton said. “We just want to be the best versions of ourselves every day. If we can do that and stay consistent with what we do, things will fall right into place. We don’t want to be playing our best basketball in December. We just want to continue to get better and better, and that will place us in a great place at the end.”

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

Brad Everett

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