Bishop Canevin girls open WPIAL championship weekend with program’s 5th title

Thursday, February 27, 2020 | 6:30 PM

It’s tough enough for a new coach to take over a historically successful program.

But first-year Bishop Canevin coach Jim Kaczorowski and the Crusaders players were wearing gold medals early Thursday evening after a 50-41 victory over Laurel in the WPIAL Class 2A girls title game at Petersen Events Center.

The only two seniors on the team led the way to the school’s fifth WPIAL title — the fourth in five seasons for a program that has made the playoffs 17 consecutive years.

St. Francis University recruit Diajha Allen scored 21 points for the Crusaders and Alyssa Pollice, a Westminster College recruit, added 12.

It’s common for players to be nervous coming into a big venue like The Pete, but how about a new coach?

“Surprisingly, I was pretty relaxed,” Kaczorowski said. “I coached under Adam Kaufman (Montour) for a while and went to some playoff games with him, so I saw the atmosphere. It was a big day for these young ladies.”

Laurel, in the finals for the first time in school history, led early on, but Allen canned a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter to spur the Crusaders.

“It was very important,” Allen said. “I was very comfortable shooting at the hoop during warm-up. It thought hitting those was, like, pushing my team.”

The team didn’t have much in the way of ball-handling jitters, either.

Bishop Canevin didn’t commit any turnovers in the first quarter and just three in the second quarter.

Said Kaczorowski: “We really believe in our point guard, Diajha, and I thought her quickness would really be a factor today. It was tough to guard her. Put it in Diajha’s hands and it’s in good hands.”

Laurel, coming off the major upset over top-seeded Serra Catholic in the semifinals Monday night, kept it close through much of the first half.

A 3-point basket by Pollice gave Bishop Canevin the lead for good, 22-19, with 5 minutes, 43 seconds left in the half.

The Crusaders were able to build the lead to 29-19 on a basket by Rutanya Taylor with 1:26 left as the Spartans committed 11 first-half turnovers.

“They went on a good run there in the second quarter and we had some turnovers,” said Spartans coach Matthew Stebbins. “We fell back in the third with a 2½-minute spell that stretched it back to 10. But every time we had an answer, they answered back.”

In a key sequence, Allen picked off an inbounds pass on Laurel’s end of the court and drove for a hoop with 0.4 seconds left in the third period. Bishop Canevin got the ball first to begin the fourth period and Savanah Abbott scored, giving the Crusaders a 40-27 lead.

Danielle Pontius led Laurel with nine points, and Mikyla Slater grabbed six rebounds.

“I never really even imagined being here with such a young team, and it was unbelievable playing in such a big gym, and with all the fans here,” said senior guard Faith Gibson.

“We really had a great support system, I don’t know the total of how many fans we had, ” Stebbins said. “No one predicted us to be even be close to coming here. Our girls battled all game long.”

Both schools have qualified for the PIAA playoffs, which begin March 6 at sites and times to be determined.

Bishop Canevin will play Purchase Line, and Laurel, in the state playoffs for the third straight year, will be facing Blacklick Valley.

Watch an archived broadcast on Trib HSSN.

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