It has been a somber holiday season for the South Fayette girls basketball team.

While other teams spent their holiday vacations playing basketball, unwrapping gifts and enjoying time with loved ones, the Lions understandably have had their thoughts tied up elsewhere. Former standout player Ava Leroux, a freshman forward at Elon who helped South Fayette capture back-to-back WPIAL Class 5A titles in 2022-23, was seriously injured in a car accident Dec. 22 while home for the holidays. Leroux had multiple emergency surgeries and spent nearly five days in the intensive care unit after the near-fatal crash.

Finally, after an emotional week filled with more tears, prayers and sleepless nights than Lions coach Bryan Bennett can count, some much-needed good news arrived Thursday — a text from Leroux’s mother, Lori, informing Bennett that Leroux had been discharged from the hospital and returned home to be with her family.

“All the prayers hopefully are helping her,” Bennett said. “I’m excited to have her home.”

Hours later, senior point guard Lainey Yater added one more reason for South Fayette to celebrate in the form of a winning jumper with 12 seconds left, lifting the Lions to a 40-39 triumph over Olentangy Liberty, Ohio, at the Carolina Lowcountry Invitational in Charleston, S.C. Fellow senior Erica Hall scored a team-high 11 points in the effort.

The dramatic win marked South Fayette’s first victory in two weeks, and not a moment too soon.

“We wanted [Yater] to drive to her right, and they took that away, and she crossed back over to her left and hit about a 16-foot pull-up [shot] with 12 seconds left, and we had to gut out a final defensive possession,” Bennett said. “They got one crack at it at the end, and fortunately the ball bounced our way today.”

South Fayette’s Lainey Yater, left, came up big when the Lions needed her most with the winning jump shot Thursday night in Charleston, S.C.. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

A year ago, the Lions knew exactly where to turn in crunch time, relying on Leroux and 2022-23 PUP Player of the Year Maddie Webber to hit countless clutch shots whenever they needed them. This year, it has been up to Yater and the rest of her teammates to fill those sizable shoes in big moments — and so far, they’ve answered the call.

“I think our kids learned a lot from them,” Bennett said. “I think Lainey and Erica Hall, who were starters the past two years on those teams, they took a backseat to Maddie and Ava because of the players they were. But we knew coming into this year that their roles were going to change, and they were excited. Erica hit a big one against Wheeling Park to get us the victory at the buzzer [Dec. 1], and Lainey hit one today.

“Our kids are getting used to the moments. I’d like a little more separation, but we’re just finding ways to win.”

The Lions hadn’t taken the court since a 49-30 loss Dec. 14 to WPIAL Class 6A front-runner Norwin, and thoughts of Leroux’s health and ongoing recovery weighed heavily on their minds. After spending Christmas with their families, the team embarked on the trip to South Carolina to resume their quest for a WPIAL championship three-peat with a three-game slate against foes from Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

After day one, it’s safe to say Bennett couldn’t have asked for a better start.

“The past few years, this team has been really close,” Bennett said. “I know they were at the hospital to see Ava before we left for the trip. Juliette [Leroux] is with us right now. … It’s great to be down here with the kids, getting to grow as a team together.”

South Fayette’s Lainey Yater, center, played an instrumental role in the Lions’ back-to-back WPIAL Class 5A titles, and she now is taking center stage as a senior. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Other girls games

• Joining South Fayette in South Carolina, Peters Township continued its red-hot start by knocking off Livingston Academy, Tenn., at the Carolina Lowcountry Invitational, 64-41. Gemma Walker led the unbeaten Indians (8-0) with 17 points, followed by 16 points from Natalie Wetzel and 15 from Bri Morreale.

• Trailing by 18 points with four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Baldwin stormed back for a 65-61 win over North Hills at the Highlands tournament. Katie Lucarelli had another hot shooting performance for the Highlanders (6-3), burying seven 3-pointers on her way to a game-high 26 points while Lynsey Bernotas added 17 points and Laci Bernotas contributed 13. Gianna Sturdivant led the Indians (5-6) with 19 points.

• For the second day in a row, Class 2A contender Greensburg Central Catholic (6-2) took down a Class 6A foe at the California University Hoopfest, this time toppling returning WPIAL Class 6A finalist Upper St. Clair, 50-40, after beating Canon-McMillan Wednesday, 44-35. Erica Gribble led the Centurions with 19 points along with 13 from Mya Morgan. Rylee Kalocay scored a game-high 27 points for the Panthers (6-4).

Armstrong picked up a big win over defending WPIAL Class 3A champion and previously unbeaten Avonworth at the Butler tournament, jumping to a 13-point halftime lead and holding on the rest of the way for a 66-50 victory. Rebecca Goetz led all scorers with 22 points for the Antelopes (6-1) to go with 12 from Greta O’Brien, while Emma Paul led four double-digit scorers for the River Hawks (5-3) with 18 points.

• Kate Myers surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for her career while scoring a game-high 20 points, including six 3-pointers, in a 46-36 win for Highlands (6-3) against Mars (5-4) at the Highlands tournament. Cecilia Christy paced the Planets with 14 points .

• Maddy Hertzler scored a team-leading 17 points to go with 16 from Brooke Evans and 12 from Maddie Cherepko, leading McKeesport (6-1) to a 55-43 victory over host Pine-Richland at the Pine-Richland tournament. Madison Zavasky led the Rams (0-6) with 16 points.

Oakland Catholic broke open a close game in the fourth quarter, outscoring Penn Charter in the final frame by 14 points to secure a 60-44 victory at the Governor’s Challenge at Maryland-Eastern Shore. London Creach led the way with 23 points for the undefeated Eagles (8-0), while Mia LeDonne added 14 and Kaylee DeAngelo tallied 13.

• Madison Clair led all scorers with 21 points and Nadia Davis chipped in with 15 for Canon-McMillan, powering the Big Macs (7-3) to a 57-54 victory over Franklin Regional (1-8) at the California University Hoopfest. Addison Musto led the Panthers with 15 points on five 3-pointers.

• Star senior Shaye Bailey scored a game-high 28 points and Olivia Henderson tacked on 14 with four 3-pointers for Freedom, fueling the Bulldogs (4-5) to a 60-37 win against host Burgettstown (4-7) at the Burgettstown tournament. Kaitlyn Nease led the Blue Devils with 13 points

• Leiana Rucker scored a game-high 14 points to go with 13 from Jaedin Griggs and 12 from Jayla Brown, leading Moon (6-1) to a 60-39 win over Rochester (4-4) at the Central Valley Roundball Classic at Community College of Beaver County (CCBC). Kamryn Newman led the Rams with 11 points.

Imani Christian’s Avery Wesley (4) and the Saints represented themselves well Thursday against the No. 3 team in the nation at the Chick-fil-A Classic in Columbia, S.C. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Boys games

• Defending WPIAL and PIAA Class 1A champion Imani Christian traveled to Columbia, S.C., to take part in the Chick-fil-A Classic against the No. 3-ranked team in the country, and the Saints kept things close until the fourth quarter of an eventual 86-69 defeat against Grayson, Ga. Trailing by only four points entering the final quarter, Imani faded down the stretch but still had plenty to be proud of after a competitive showing. Avery Wesley led the Saints (1-2) with 20 points to go with 18 from Nate Brazil.

• Longtime Mt. Lebanon coach Joe David picked up win No. 400 of his career as the Blue Devils (8-0) remained undefeated this season with a 69-49 win over Bishop Snyder, Fla., at the Sunshine State Explosion in Coconut Creek, Fla. Riley Farabaugh scored a game-high 17 points for Mt. Lebanon, while Brody Barber tacked on 15 points and Sam Deibert added 14.

• One night after setting career high with 30 points for Mars (4-4) in a much-needed win, 6-6 senior Ryan Ceh eclipsed his personal-best total and set a benchmark with 33 points in the Planets’ 71-34 victory against Pensacola Catholic, Fla., at the Pensacola Beach tournament.

Shady Side Academy scored an impressive 63-58 home win over neighboring rival Fox Chapel (4-6) at the annual Peter Sauer Memorial. Eli Teslovich led the way with 20 points for the Bulldogs (4-4), who had four players reach double digits in scoring.

• Joey Dopirak tallied a game-high 38 points for North Allegheny, but Franklin Regional edged the Tigers (3-7) for a 61-53 win at the Holiday Bash at North Allegheny. Cooper Rankin paced the Panthers (7-1) with 22 points along with 19 from Cam Powell.

• Eli Wentz spearheaded a balanced offensive attack that saw five Pine-Richland players reach double figures, finishing with a team-high 15 points for the Rams (3-4) in a 70-65 overtime win over Mohawk at the Central Valley Roundball Classic. Bobby Fadden led all scorers with 28 points in a valiant effort for the Warriors (3-5).

• Nathan Shanbacher led four double-digit scorers for North Hills with 17 points, as the Indians buried 14 3-pointers on their way to a 60-41 win over Altoona at the Hampton tournament. Eric James added 13 for North Hills (4-4) to go with 11 apiece from Logan Johnson and Jackson Long.

• Nathan Richards scored a team-leading 20 points to pace four double-digit scorers for Baldwin (6-2) in a 74-63 win over Allderdice (5-2) at the Peter Sauer Memorial at Shady Side Academy. Matt Shenk and Max Marxian finished with 14 apiece to go with 12 from Caden Cherico. Major Rainey led all scorers with 21 points for the Dragons.

• Football star Scoop Smith tied for the scoring lead with 23 points for Woodland Hills, but it wasn’t enough to bring home a win for the Wolverines (3-6), as Chartiers Valley (5-4) earned a 64-48 win at the Central Valley Roundball Classic behind 23 points from Jayden Davis and 12 apiece from Julian Semplice and T.J. Kubicsek.

• Brady Mayo scored a game-high 29 points for Beaver, but it came in a losing effort as the Bobcats (4-5) fell to host Peters Township, 80-61, at the Peters Township/Upper St. Clair tournament. Dylan Donovan led four players in double figures for the Indians (6-2) with 20 points.

• Liam Mignogna (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Robert Coll (13 points, 10 rebounds) each posted double-doubles as host Hampton (7-2) rolled to a 51-34 win over Grove City at the Hampton tournament.

• Kaden Hathaway scored a team-high 17 points and Dante DeRubbo added 10 for Trinity (5-4) in a 52-45 overtime win over visiting Canon-McMillan at the Trinity tournament. Evan Morris led all scorers with 19 points for the Big Macs (5-5).

Penn Hills’ Robert Thomas (5) posted a double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Greensburg Central Catholic Thursday at the Greensburg Salem tournament. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Three stars

*** — Kelly Cleaver, Union. The Scotties’ all-state senior forward put up 29 points to go with 7 steals and 5 rebounds in a 74-13 rout against Ambridge at the Blackhawk tournament.

** — Robert Thomas, Penn Hills. Thomas could not be stoppedf, registering a double-double with 28 points and 10 rebounds for the Indians in a nail-biting 58-55 win against Greensburg Central Catholic at the Greensburg Salem tournament.

* — Meghan Murray, Hampton. A Kent State recruit, Murray poured in a career-high 34 points for the Talbots in a 59-49 win over Olympian, Calif., at the Gold Crown tournament in San Diego.

Hot from deep

Players with 3 or more 3-pointers: Katie Lucarelli, Baldwin, 7; Kate Myers, Highlands, 6; Shyan Tindall, Laurel, 6; Addison Musto, Franklin Regional, 5; Ryan Ceh, Mars, 5; Riley Collins, Mt. Lebanon, 4; Joe Coyle, Quaker Valley, 4; Dylan Donovan, Peters Township, 4; Riley Farabaugh, Mt. Lebanon, 4; Nate Girod, Mt. Lebanon, 4; Olivia Henderson, Freedom, 4; Parker Hollick, Ligonier Valley, 4; Derek Lang, Knoch, 4; Jackson Maddix, Bishop Canevin, 4; Avery Wesley, Imani Christian, 4; Kristian Clayton, Summit Academy, 3; Jack Dunbar, Peters Township, 3; Rocco Galmarini, Union, 3; Keigan Hopper, Mohawk, 3; Logan Johnson, North Hills, 3; L.J. Keith, Neshannock, 3; Jackson Long, North Hills, 3; Nathan Schanbacher, North Hills, 3; Grant Spacciapolli, Pine-Richland, 3; Sean Thelk, Peters Township, 3; Zach Washington, Quaker Valley, 3; Eli Wentz, Pine-Richland, 3.

Meghan Murray (10) was firing on all cylinders for Hampton Thursday, scoring a career-high 34 points for the Talbots at the Gold Crown tournament in San Diego. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Union Progress).

Boys scores

Abington Heights 61, Aliquippa 50

Apollo-Ridge 61, Leechburg 54

Aquinas Academy 56, Trinity Christian 20

Armstrong 60, Hereford, Md., 24

Avella 58, South Side 57

Avonworth 44, State College 42

Baldwin 74, Allderdice 63

Belle Vernon 65, South Park 46

Beth-Center 56, Carmichaels 39

Bishop Canevin 61, Quaker Valley 57

Bishop Carroll 83, Ligonier Valley 67

Butler 73, Bishop Guilfoyle 64

Carrick 48, Bentworth 38

Central Catholic 53, Council Rock South 41

Central Valley 65, Beaver Falls 37

Charleroi 60, Frazier 48

Chartiers Valley 64, Woodland Hills 48

Chartiers-Houston 60, Western Beaver 39

Clairton 81, Geibel Catholic 29

Connellsville 55, Mount Pleasant 51

Elizabeth Forward 63, South Allegheny 61

Ellwood City 62, Maplewood 22

Epic South, N.Y., 55, Latrobe 53

Floyd Central, Ky., 75, Seton LaSalle 67

Fort Cherry 84, Propel Montour 21

Franklin, Mass., 64, Seneca Valley 34

Franklin Regional 61, North Allegheny 53

Grayson, Ga., 86, Imani Christian 69

Greenville 71, Westinghouse 49

Hampton 51, Grove City 34

Hempfield 65, Greensburg Salem 52

Hickory 69, Albert Gallatin 52

Hillel Academy 43, Cornell 34

Hopewell 64, Wilmington 24

Jefferson-Morgan 47, Mapletown 24

Kiski Area 53, Neighborhood Academy 45

Knoch 60, Steel Valley 24

Laurel 40, Riverside 30

Mars 71, Pensacola, Fla., 34

McGuffey 49, Burgettstown 40 (OT)

Monessen 73, Winchester Thurston 59

Mt. Lebanon 69, Bishop Snyder, Fla., 49

Neshannock 62, Union 46

North Hills 60, Altoona 41

Northgate 85, Brashear 49

Norwin 50, Keystone Oaks 24

Penn Hills 58, Greensburg C.C. 55

Peters Township 80, Beaver 61

Pine-Richland 70, Mohawk 65 (OT)

Plum 66, Brentwood 57

Ringgold 59, California 39

River Valley 50, Summit Academy 42

Riverview 52, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 41

Shady Side Academy 63, Fox Chapel 55

Shaler 65, Notre Dame-Green Pond 42

Shenango 61, Eden Christian 46

South Fayette 49, Johnstown 41

Southmoreland 60, East Allegheny 42

Springdale 73, Pittsburgh Christian Academy 33

Trinity 52, Canon-McMillan 45 (OT)

Uniontown 74, Downingtown West 50

Washington 76, Propel Braddock Hills 27

West Greene 49, Brownsville 39

Yough 64, Jeannette 62

Girls scores

Albert Gallatin 45, Bridgeport, W.Va., 29

Aliquippa 50, Central Valley 38

Altoona 55, Butler 44

Apollo-Ridge 59, East Allegheny 8

Aquinas Academy 51, Belle Vernon 16

Armstrong 66, Avonworth 50

Avella 46, Steel Valley 36

Baldwin 65, North Hills 61

Beaver 49, Winchester Thurston 36

Beth-Center 59, Charleroi 48

Big Walnut, Ohio, 57, Waynesburg 15

Bishop Guilfoyle 47, North Catholic 41

Blackhawk 59, New Castle 15

Brentwood 27, Carmichaels 26

Cambridge Springs 51, Brashear 23

Canon-McMillan 57, Franklin Regional 54

Carrick 26, Neighborhood Academy 13

Connellsville 44, Brownsville 36

Deer Lakes 51, Carlynton 18

Elizabeth Forward 70, Seton LaSalle 54

Ellwood City 67, Shenango 27

Freedom 60, Burgettstown 37

Gateway 37, South Allegheny 14

Geibel Catholic 52, Sto-Rox 29

Greensburg C.C. 50, Upper St. Clair 40

Greensburg Salem 48, Mount Pleasant 36

Grove City 60, Laurel 43

Hampton 59, Olympian, Calif., 49

Hempfield 59, Plum 45

Highlands 46, Mars 36

Hopewell 41, Eden Christian 36

Indiana 48, Latrobe 40

Jeannette 52, Hundred, W.Va., 31

Keystone Oaks 63, Chartiers-Houston 35

Laurel Highlands 54, Washington 16

Lincoln Park 80, Wilmington 52

Mapletown 41, Turkeyfoot Valley 33

McGuffey 53, Fort Cherry 43

McKeesport 55, Pine-Richland 43

Mohawk 76, Allderdice 61

Moniteau 59, Northgate 12

Moon 60, Rochester 39

Mt. Lebanon 63, McDowell 44

Neshannock 60, Hickory 33

Oakland Catholic 60, Penn Charter 44

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 70, Rockwood 24

Penn Hills 44, Quaker Valley 31

Peters Township 64, Livingston Academy, Tenn., 41

Ringgold 61, Propel Montour 30

River Valley 62, Derry 18

Seneca Valley 41, Kiski Area 34

Shady Side Academy 56, Fox Chapel 45

Shaler 46, North Schuylkill 28

South Fayette 40, Olentangy Liberty, Ohio, 39

South Side 59, Bentworth 27

Springdale 35, Jefferson-Morgan 24

Thomas Jefferson 47, Bethel Park 44

Union 74, Ambridge 13

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

Steve Rotstein

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