Archbishop Wood stops South Fayette in PIAA Class 5A girls title game

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Saturday, March 25, 2023 | 8:31 PM


HERSHEY – South Fayette’s first trip to the PIAA Class 5A girls basketball championship game started off well enough, with Erica Hall scoring on the Lions’ first possession and Maddie Webber adding a couple field goals quickly after that.

But South Fayette lost its shooting touch while Archbishop Wood never did, and the experience ended for the Lions with a 61-54 loss to Archbishop Wood on Saturday night at Giant Center.

Having trailed by as many as 16, the closest South Fayette (28-3) got was in the last minute when Hall scored a couple of layups and Ava Leroux made a 3-point shot to get with 56-51 with 48 seconds to go. But Archbishop Wood’s Ava Renninger made three of her last four free throws to ice the game.

Already down 37-24 entering the third quarter, the Lions were only able to trade blows with the Vikings and were still trailing 48-35 entering the fourth. Back-to-back layups by Leroux and Webber pulled South Fayette within 42-34, but Kara Meredith immediately replied with a 3-point shot to put Archbishop Wood (24-5) up by double figures again.

Meanwhile, the Vikings kept Webber from having any shooting rhythm after the opening minutes by putting Delaney Finnegan on her with a second defender coming on the help side whenever the Villanova recruit had the ball within 15 feet of the basket. She finished with 11 points.

“We knew (Finnegan) was probably going to match up on Maddie,” South Fayette coach Brian Bennett said. “They collapsed on her and took away some of her drives. She missed some shots she usually makes, but without Maddie we probably wouldn’t be standing here tonight.”

Archbishop Wood started the game hot from the outside, scoring in the opening seconds on a 3-pointer from Meredith. The Vikings made four of their first six 3-point attempts, ending that early phase with a trey by Emily Knouse for a 20-8 lead late in the first quarter.

“They’re a good 3-point shooting team,” Bennett said. “We knew that coming in. If we didn’t take the 3-point shot away, it would be a long night.”

South Fayette was 3 for 11 from the floor during those same opening seven minutes but then made their next two attempts. Baskets inside by Leroux and Ryan Oldaker pulled the Lions within 20-12 before Renninger’s shot make it 22-12 after one period.

The Vikings extended their lead to 16 points midway through the second period when Renninger’s basket made it 31-15. The Lions missed an opportunity to cut into the lead when Archbishop Wood went scoreless for three minutes, but the only points South Fayette got were a layup by Oldaker. Nevertheless, back-to-back scores by Hall pulled the WPIAL reps within 33-22 with 1:08 left in the half.

“Our gameplan was to have Erica drive to the basket in the second half,” Bennett said, when asked about Hall’s team-high 17 points.

Lauren Tretter and Meredith had layups in the last minute to briefly push the lead back out to 37-22 before Hall scored again in the final seconds to get the Cougars within 13 points at intermission.

Leroux scored 10 points in the defeat.

For the Vikings, Renninger scored 21 points while, Deja Evans added 17 and Meredith had 13.

Archbishop Wood had a 30-20 advantage on the boards, with Evans grabbing 12 rebounds. Leroux had eight rebounds to lead South Fayette.

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