Cathedral Prep puts wraps on McKeesport in Class 5A semifinals

Tuesday, March 19, 2024 | 10:39 PM

McKeesport’s girls basketball team has prided itself on defense all season long, and it maintained its tenacity without the ball Tuesday night in a PIAA Class 5A semifinal matchup against Cathedral Prep.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, their offense just wasn’t there in a 35-20 loss to the Ramblers.

“I don’t know what we shot, but it wasn’t good,” said Matt Miller, who took over as McKeesport’s head coach midway through the season. “We thought we’d shoot it a little bit better, but when you play against a good team, you’ve gotta be on, and we weren’t on today. It is what it is, but we’re still proud of what we did.”

McKeesport (24-5) was held to six points in the first half as Madison Hertzler, Brooke Evans and Rachael Manfredo each had two after 16 minutes of play.

The Ramblers (23-3) didn’t have much success on offense either, but the difference between the two sides was Addie Biel.

The 6-foot-2 junior led all scorers with 17 points and had a double-double with 11 rebounds. For a large duration of the first half, she was the only player that was able to add points. Miller said during the week that the Tigers would have to limit second- and third-chance opportunities against the Ramblers, but Biel got the majority of her points after offensive rebounds.

“We just talked about cleaning up the boards,” Biel said. “We said that if we get more shots than they do, it’s gonna end up in our favor, and it did.”

“She was outstanding,” Miller said of Biel. “We knew she was gonna be a force, but we were hoping she wouldn’t be as big of a factor as she was. Nothing but positive things to say about them; if you’re going to lose to somebody, that’s the type of team you want to lose to. They were big and physical, and it was hard for us when they were getting so many second and third opportunities.”

Lena Walz, a St. Bonaventure basketball commit, added 12 points for Cathedral Prep as it moved on to the Class 5A PIAA championship game against defending champion Archbishop Wood on Saturday.

“The first feeling you have is excitement and elation for your kids, especially for your seniors,” Cathedral Prep coach Doug Chuzie said. “The second feeling you have is, you look over at the other bench. I’ve been there, so hats off to coach and all of their seniors for a wonderful season from them. It’s a mixed bag. When you’ve been around long enough, you’re excited for your team, but at the same time, your heart breaks for the other coach and other players.”

This Tigers squad was full of seniors, and talented ones at that.

Savannah Blosser, Kaylee Charles, Madeline Cherepko, Brooke Evans, Madison Hertzler, Rachael Manfredo and Madison Miller all saw their high school careers come to an end with the defeat, but they leave as an unforgettable group within the program.

“I thanked them for letting me be a part of (their season),” Miller said. “They’re great girls. They worked hard, they did everything we ever asked them to do, and I just told them, ‘Hey, it was a heck of a ride.’ They’re the winningest group in McKeesport girls basketball history over four years. They made it to two state semifinals. There’s nothing to hang their head about. That was a really good basketball team we just played.”

The Ramblers led from the first basket on as Biel had her team’s first 10 points. She quickly made it 5-0 with a strong finish and an and-one before Manfredo got the Tigers on the board with a jumper on the other end.

Biel added the next three points after making a layup and splitting on two free throws, but Evans and Hertzler added the final four points of the quarter to make it anyone’s game at 8-6 after the first.

For the next 10 minutes, though, the Ramblers held the Tigers scoreless and ultimately took control of the game.

Cathedral Prep only mustered eight points in the second quarter, but it gave them a 16-6 lead that was insurmountable given the offensive struggles on both sides.

“It all starts with heart and effort,” Chuzie said. “Our girls communicate very well; they’ve played with each other for a long time. Their attention to detail and their want-to is so high. … I don’t think it’s a special scheme at all. It’s just what our girls do.”

Biel had the first two points of the quarter to bring her total to 10 before a teammate finally joined her on the scoresheet. It was Jayden McBride that pushed Cathedral Prep’s advantage to 12-6 before Biel got back to work with another two.

Walz got on the board before the half with two free throws to make the score 16-6.

In the second half, it took two minutes for the Tigers to open the scoring as Hertzler made a tough layup. But Biel matched her two before Walz had a 3-pointer bounce up off the front of the rim and in, giving the Ramblers a 21-8 lead.

Charles then got on the board with two free throws, and Walz made a layup before the buzzer to make the score 23-10 heading into the final frame.

Things opened up a bit offensively for both sides in the last eight minutes, as they spent the first few minutes trading points.

Manfredo started the quarter off with a nice floater before Ava Lucarotti got on the board with a jumper. Manfredo found a cutting Evans for a layup with 5:28 to go, but the Ramblers answered right back with a nifty take from Biel as she faked a handoff and got two Tigers to follow Walz without the ball.

After Evans scored two more and McBride split a pair of free throws, the score read 28-16 in Cathedral Prep’s favor, and the rest of the scoring came from the free-throw line.

Walz made 1 of 2 before Manfredo sank a pair. Biel went 1 for 2 before Walz connected on both, making the score 32-18. Charles then made two free throws to cap off McKeesport’s scoring at 20 while Walz added two more from the charity stripe and McBride made one, leaving the score at 35-20.

“You cherish every win, whether it’s a league win, whether it’s a region win, a section win or a state win,” Chuzie said. “That’s why we do this. We play this to spend time together and to celebrate if you win and learn if you don’t happen to win. Tonight, we were lucky enough to come out with a victory, and we’ll celebrate it and enjoy each other’s time before we get back to it.”

After a tough season-ending loss, the message from Miller to his McKeesport squad was simple: Keep your heads high.

“I thanked them, I hugged every one of them, and I made sure they know that if they need anything, we’re always here,” he said. “I thought it was really cool that I got to coach them, and that I got the opportunity to know them. I wish the younger girls the best of luck, and we’ll definitely be around next year to watch them play, but what a special senior group we have.”


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