It may have been difficult for the South Fayette girls basketball team to bid farewell to a pair of program-changing players a season ago.

The next heirs to the Lions’ throne, however, may have just announced their presence with authority by leading their pride to its third consecutive WPIAL Class 5A championship.

Sophomore guard/forward Juliette Leroux scored a team-high 18 points with eight rebounds and three steals, while classmate Haylie Lamonde scored 17 points and senior Erica Hall added 17 of her own for good measure to lead No. 6 seed South Fayette to a 70-63 victory against fifth-seeded Armstrong Saturday evening in another title game for their school at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

“It’s just a special group,” Lions coach Brian Bennett said. “I knew it was going to take time to kind of get to where we were because of our youth. I knew we had talent, it was just learning how to play hard for 32 minutes, learning how to do little details.

“Once we did that it just kind of clicked,” he added. “That’s why we’re sitting here today.”

South Fayette’s Erica Hall shoots as she’s guarded by Armstrong’s Kyla Fitzgerald during the WPIAL Class 5A championship Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Petersen Events Center in Oakland. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

South Fayette, now winner of four WPIAL championships all time, saw its current run of three consecutive titles begin when then standout guard Maddie Webber and forward Ava Leroux led the Lions to a district crown in 2022 with an upset of top-seeded Chartiers Valley.

Webber and Leroux followed that up by knocking off Oakland Catholic last season in the WPIAL title game and advancing to the first PIAA championship appearance in school history before moving on to Division I universities. Now a freshman at Villanova, Webber is excelling in the Big East, while Leroux saw her freshman campaign at Elon derailed by a devastating vehicle accident late last year.

“I think it’s honestly unbelievable that we made it here,” said Hall, who is a member of all three of the Lions’ most recent championship teams. “I know my teammates were saying like, ‘As long as we get to the Pete I’m going to be happy.’

“Once we saw our seeding, I think we knew that we had something to prove,” she added. “Coming off losing Maddie and Ava, obviously they were big parts of our team, I think we looked for them at first early in the season, but then we kind of found our flow. I’m really proud of us.”

Although South Fayette (18-8) was ultimately pleased with its outcome, Armstrong (21-5) senior Emma Paul did her best to nearly ruin the Lions’ party in the River Hawks’ first trip to a WPIAL championship game in school history.

Armstrong’s Emma Paul drives on South Fayette’s Cierra Rexrode during the WPIAL Class 5A championship Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Petersen Events Center. Paul finished with a game-high 36 points, but Armstrong came up short, 70-63. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

A 5-foot-5 guard, Paul scored a game-high 36 points and made six shots from 3-point range. Senior forward Kyla Fitzgerald added 16 points and eight rebounds for the River Hawks.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” Armstrong coach Jim Callipare said. “It’s obviously disheartening. They just made a few more shots than us. They were a little bit better than us tonight, but our girls, I just can’t say enough about their resiliency — just not tonight but all season long.”

Armstrong committed eight turnovers and were outscored, 16-6, on points off turnovers by South Fayette.

“I think it was just a little bit of nerves,” Callipare said. “This is their third time here in a row, so maybe they were a little more game ready being here before and obviously this was our first trip. Maybe that played into it a little bit.

“We’re human,” he added. “We all make mistakes. They gave all they had. They left it out on the floor there.”

The Lions first began to capitalize off those miscues and take control of the contest in the second quarter.

After taking a four-point lead out of the first, South Fayette used a 13-7 run to take a 35-25 lead into halftime.

South Fayette players celebrate their win against Armstrong in the WPIAL Class 5A championship Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Petersen Events Center in Oakland. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Hall made a pair of 3-pointers and Lamonde added another during the run.

The Lions made 4-of-6 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc in the second quarter and converted on 6-of-10 attempts from deep in the first half.

Senior guard Lainey Yater and Hall scored eight points each in the first half, while Lamonde and Leroux tallied five points each.

“I would say the first two years we were here we definitely had issues with the 3-point line and the college line, the high school and the college line,” Hall said. “I think watching the game before us, we saw people taking deep 3’s, so in the locker room we kind of all just told each other, ‘See where your feet are at on the floor before you shoot it. Know where you’re at on the floor.’ I think that definitely helped us. I think we are a good 3-point shooting team when we are focused.”

Paul, meanwhile, kept Armstrong in the contest with 12 first-half points, 4 assists and 2 steals.

After outscoring the Lions, 18-12, in the third quarter, which ended with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Hall, the River Hawks would continue their rally in the fourth.

Armstrong would cut its deficit to as little as 53-50 when Paul hit a 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.

“What we saw tonight was what we saw on film,” Bennett said. “We knew we were going to have our hands full. Their forwards are some big strong kids, and we knew we would have a tough time fighting through the screens, so we tried to switch.

“[Paul] came off the screen and crossed right back over it, right back off the other one, which we knew she was going to do,” he added. “It was a lot faster than we expected.”

It was as close as the River Hawks would get.

Leroux answered with a 3-pointer of her own on the ensuing possession before Hall added a layup to put the South Fayette lead back at 60-53 with 3:03 left to play.

“Either way it’s great getting here, but second place hurts a little bit,” said Paul, whose team advances to play District 3 fifth-place Palmyra in the PIAA playoffs. “You’ve just got to move on to states now.”

For the Lions, the goal is the same.

With so much history in tow, this crop of South Fayette seniors will be vying to achieve something it never has before — a win in the PIAA championship game.

The Lions will open the PIAA playoffs against District 3 eighth-place Red Land.

“That would be crazy, especially our senior year, that would be so special,” Yater said. “We have a special group, a great group of girls, so it would mean something to a lot of us.”

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

John Santa

John is a copy editor and page designer at the Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at