Maggie Spell took a hard tumble Friday that took her through a curtain and carried her into the stands behind the basket as she tried to chase down a loose ball.

“I wanted to put the layup in so badly,” Spell said. “I was just going as hard as I could and then I didn’t realize I was off the court . And then the rod hit me in the stomach and knocked the wind of me. But I’m all good.”

Better than good, actually.

A standout guard and one of the WPIAL’s top sophomores, Spell was superb as she scored a game-high 31 points, including 22 of her team’s final 24 points, while carrying No. 2-seeded Shady Side Academy to its first WPIAL championship after a 52-45 win against No. 1 and defending champion Avonworth in the Class 3A girls basketball final at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

“It feels amazing doing it with these girls. It’s everything that we’ve been working for,” said fellow sophomore star Karis Thomas, who added 11 points in what was her team’s 18th consecutive win.

In a rematch of a WPIAL semifinal from a year ago won by Avonworth, 41-35, the Antelopes (22-2) led Shady Side Academy (24-2) by three points midway through the third quarter in what had been a back-and-forth game. But after Cassie Sauer scored on a layup to cut the Shady Side Academy deficit to 29-28, Spell began to cast a spell on Avonworth as she scored her team’s final 9 points of the quarter.

Spell’s two free throws with 3:16 left in the third gave the Bulldogs a 30-29 lead. She then continued to sizzle, despite the big fall with just under two minutes left, to give her team a 37-31 lead heading into the fourth. It was more of the same in the fourth when Spell tallied 13 of Shady Side Academy’s 15 points. Avonworth pulled to 39-34 on Greta O’Brien’s free throw with 6:30 remaining, but Spell’s three-point play 16 seconds later pushed the lead back to eight, and the Antelopes never got within six points the rest of the way.

Spell, who came into the game averaging a team-high 19 points per game, was ultra-efficient against Avonworth after the Antelopes held her to 10 points in the 2023 meeting. Spell was 11 of 16 from the field and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line.

“Maggie came up big,” Shady Side Academy coach Jonna Burke said. “Maggie seems to have a nose for the ball, wherever it’s at. A couple of times, she made some plays where she was sacrificing herself. She flew out of bounds. I’m sure she’s going to feel pretty sore tomorrow. But to me, Maggie is all about big moments. She just did what she normally does tonight.”

Shady Side Academy players cheer on their team’s 52-45 win against Avonworth in the WPIAL Class 3A girls basketball championship Friday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.(Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Burke, in her third season, won the second WPIAL title of her coaching career. Burke, who has 541 career wins, also guided Bethel Park to its first championship in 2013.

Rebecca Goetz had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds and O’Brien tacked on 14 points for Avonworth, which saw its 16-game win streak come to an end.

Avonworth entered the game boasting one of the WPIAL’s stingiest defenses, but it was Shady Side Academy Friday that shined brighter on that side of the ball. The Antelopes went 15 of 57 from the field (29%), made just 5 of 20 3-point attempts, and were held to their fewest points since the second game of the season. Avonworth did force 20 Shady Side Academy turnovers, but the Bulldogs shot 18 of 32 from the field (56%) and 16 of 19 from the free-throw line (84%).

“We were right there. We just couldn’t get that run,” Avonworth coach Nick Dizon said. “We didn’t get that stretch of two or three shots to fall that we have. They played well. Obviously it’s more than just that we didn’t make shots. We played hard and they played hard, too, and they made it difficult. And we just couldn’t get that little run we needed to seize control of the game.”

Maggie Spell (center) holds the WPIAL Class 3A championship trophy after her team’s 52-45 win against Avonworth Friday at Petersen Events Center. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Shady Side Academy not only seized control of the game, but also the Bulldogs grabbed their first WPIAL championship.

And while Spell said she might wake up a little sore Saturday due to her big fall, her coach said not to worry about her.

Said Burke, “No pain with a gold medal, though.”

FROM 2023: Sauer sisters shining for Shady Side Academy a decade after legendary father’s death

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

Brad Everett

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