Armstrong hands 1st loss to No. 1 Oakland Catholic, reaches 1st WPIAL final

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Tuesday, February 27, 2024 | 11:04 PM


Oakland Catholic came into the Class 5A tournament the only undefeated team in the entire WPIAL and the top seed in the bracket.

Armstrong was also hot coming in, toting a school-record 15-game winning streak.

The River Hawks prevailed 49-40 at Fox Chapel on Tuesday night, ending the Eagles’ perfect season and in turn clinching their first championship game appearance.

“It is a great feeling,” coach Jim Calipare said. “I’m sure it feels great all the time, but it’s even more special when it’s never been done before.”

Standout senior guard Emma Paul was a big reason the River Hawks were victorious, netting a game-high 28 points and adding four assists.

Calipare and Paul shared a big, emotional embrace after the game, and he was effusive in his praise of his senior leader.

“She’s truly like my first assistant coach in that she’s an extension of me on the floor,” Calipare said. “She thinks the game so well. She sees the floor so well. She wants the ball in her hands in crunch time. She is one of those kids you get once in a lifetime.”

Oakland Catholic was playing short-handed, losing its top scorer London Creach to a leg injury suffered in the quarterfinals.

“(Oakland Catholic is) a great team, and they were obviously missing their best player,” said Cailpare. “But we think we’re pretty good too. We’ve been getting better every game, and they are buying what I’m selling and that goes a long way.”

The Eagles didn’t have a particularly great shooting night, except for Kaylee DeAngelo. The freshman nailed six 3-pointers and paced Oakland Catholic with 22 points. She was the only Eagle in double figures. Freshman Mia LeDonne scored nine points and pulled down six rebounds.

Armstrong got a good effort from forward Kyla Fitzgerald. The senior scored eight points and had seven rebounds.

Calipare was happy with the contributions outside of Paul.

“It was a beautiful team effort,” he said. “Emma drives the bus and leads us, it takes a contribution from a lot of people, and we knew we could do it.”

When Fitzgerald got into foul trouble, a pair of her senior teammates helped pick up the slack.

Kali Allensworth scored five first-half points, and Sarai Weaver added eight points and a game-high nine rebounds. Weaver scored six of her points in the third quarter.

“(Weaver) and I talked at the beginning of the season,” Calipare said. “I told her she was going to have a breakout year this season and she did that and then some. She’s always solid for us on both ends of the floor. I’m really proud of her.”

The loss denied Oakland Catholic a rematch of last year’s title game with South Fayette. The Lions defeated the Eagles, 64-49, to win their second consecutive 5A championship last March.

South Fayette, seeded sixth, defeated No. 2 McKeesport on Tuesday to keep its quest for a three-peat alive.

Calipare was excited for the challenge of facing the Lions.

“I don’t know much about them yet, but I expect a war,” he said. “They have the pedigree and they’ve been there before. Even though their roster has changed over a little bit, they have a great coach and a great team. It’s going to be another big challenge for us, but I promise you, we’ll be ready.”

All four 5A semifinalists had already clinched spots in the upcoming PIAA playoffs. Section foes McKeesport and Oakland Catholic will head to the consolation bracket and face off for the third time this season Thursday to determine the third and fourth seeds from the WPIAL for the state playoffs.

Armstrong heads to the Petersen Events Center at 5 p.m. Saturday in search of its first WPIAL tile.

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