HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL: WPIAL champion Rebels prove too much for Bobcats
BRIDGEVILLE — Blairsville knew it was going to have its hands full Friday night against WPIAL champion Seton-La Salle, but the Bobcats could only imagine how tough they were actually going to have it. The Rebels dominated from start to finish, and the Bobcats simply couldn’t keep up and ended their season with a 58-37 loss in a PIAA Class AA girls’ basketball first-round playoff game at Chartiers Valley High School.
“They are just a machine,” Blairsville’s Chelsey Koren said of Seton-La Salle. “We knew coming in that it was going to be the toughest team that we’ve ever played. We like to run on teams, but we knew there was no way we were going to be able to keep up with them. We tried to slow things down and get some offensive sets in, but they’re just unbelievable.”
Blairsville (23-3), which was the third-place team out of District 6, scored the first basket of the game and never led again. Seton-La Salle, which has won the WPIAL title three of the past four seasons, was bigger, faster and stronger than the Bobcats. The Rebels will play Greensburg Central Catholic (20-5) on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.
“We were definitely the underdogs down here, and we knew that coming in,” Blairsville coach Ralph McGinnis said, “but I am very pleased with the way we battled. We didn’t back off for one moment out there. Their speed is just too much. And where we’re at with all of our underclassmen, I’m just proud of how hard these kids played.”
“We were hoping that we could bring our level of play up, but they were a great team,” Laurel O’Barto said. “They were definitely who we thought they were going to be. They’re very intense on defense and control the game on offense. They’re just good all-around.”
The Rebels (23-4) put together a 19-2 run in the second quarter and cruised from there. The Bobcats scored the next five points to pull within 30-14, but that was as close as they’d get.
The two teams attempted just 10 shots from the free throw line, and the first foul of the game wasn’t called until well into the second quarter.
“We’re so happy to get a game like this,” McGinnis said. “Losing by 21, for us, I don’t think that’s a bad thing against a team like that. And knowing that we have this team coming back, and we’re dropping to single-A next year, that’s perfect time for us. If we put in the work, I think we have a legitimate shot to making it to Hershey next year.”
There were some very high expectations for the Bobcats this season, but the hopes for next season are already much higher. Blairsville will move down to Class A and return its top six players. The Bobcats won the District 6 Class AA championship last season before losing 58-39 in the first round of the state playoffs to Greensburg Central Catholic. They have gone unbeaten in the Heritage Conference in the past two seasons, but playing a team like Seton-La Salle isn’t like playing any regular-season team.
“I don’t think there’s a classification they couldn’t win right now,” McGinnis said of the Rebels. “Our girls wish they had games like this all season. They love this competition. Especially Laurel and Chelsey, they thrive on having to battle like that. We wish we had this a lot, but it’s hard to do that in our conference.”
Koren had a team-high 18 points, and O’Barto added 11. Mikala Misleany, Nicole Boyer, Corinne Moore and Kia Clayton finished with just two points each. In their loss to Bellwood-Antis in the District 6 semifinals, only Koren and O’Barto scored for the Bobcats.
“It’s hard, but that’s something we have to work on in the offseason,” McGinnis said of getting players on board. “I brought in these younger girls who are playing here for the first time in this type of atmosphere, so I understand them not putting up points. But next year, I won’t understand it.”
Yacine Diop and Nicolete Newman scored 18 points apiece for the Rebels, and Cassidy Walsh had 11. Seton-La Salle was without standout Naje Gibson, who wasn’t at the game due to undisclosed prior arrangements. Gibson, Diop and Walsh have all verbally committed to play basketball at the University of Pittsburgh.
“They can still go eight or nine deep on their bench,” McGinnis said of Gibson’s absence. “That was just another weapon that they didn’t have tonight. That could’ve contributed for another 10, 11 or 13 points. I found out right before the beginning of the game that her name was scratched.”
The inside game for both teams came on in the second half as Koren scored 13 of her points and Diop scored 14 of hers after the break. Diop and the Rebels had the height advantage even without the 6-foot Gibson.
“(Diop’s) a player, and we knew coming in how strong she was,” McGinnis said. “We’re always undersized. The size alone was bad enough, but her physical strength is powerful. She’s just an outstanding athlete.”
Physical strength is something that the Bobcats will work on in the offseason in preparation for their much-anticipated 2014-15 campaign.
“We need to get stronger,” McGinnis said. “We have some girls who need to work on their fundamentals. They don’t have to score 15 points a game, but they need to give me seven. And then we need three or so girls who can come off the bench and score five or six. Those are our goals for the summer.”
“He’s going to get us in the weight room this summer because we’re going to try to get stronger,” Koren said. “I’m really excited for next year. Our goal is to get even further into the state playoffs. This season was a good season, but now we have to look forward. It could be a great season next year.”