Chartiers Valley girls in search of perfection Saturday in PIAA title game
By: Don Rebel
Friday, March 22, 2019 | 3:57 PM
If they win one more game, they will be known as a perfect team.
Win or lose in the PIAA Class 5A girls basketball championship game, maybe it would be more appropriate to refer to this 2018-19 Chartiers Valley squad as the “ultimate” team.
“It’s been a total team effort all year,” Chartiers Valley first-year coach Tim McConnell said. “It’s not been one individual carrying this team, and that’s what I like about it the most.”
The Colts have won all 29 of their games, captured their second WPIAL championship in three years and now will try to win a PIAA championship for the first time in school history.
Chartiers Valley how hopes to major in history as it tries to become only the fourth WPIAL girls basketball team to win district and state crowns with an undefeated record, joining Mt. Alvernia in 1983, Mt. Lebanon in 2009 and Seton LaSalle in 2012.
Actually, the Colts may become the fifth team if undefeated Peters Township wins the Class 6A title on Friday evening.
The Colts seem to have a different leading scorer every game; an example was the PIAA semifinal win over Thomas Jefferson.
Freshman Aislin Malcolm led the scoring with 12 points with Megan McConnell and Mackenzie Wagner scoring 10 points each. Right behind them on the score sheet was Gabriella Legister and Perri Carlisle-Page off the bench with 8 points each.
State gold won’t come easy for Chartiers Valley as it faces District 12 champion Archbishop Carroll. The Patriots are 25-5 and won their first three state playoff games by double-digit points before defeating District 11 champion Southern Lehigh, 39-32, in the PIAA semifinals.
Archbishop Carroll has won two PIAA titles, claiming the Class AAA crown in 2009 and the Class AAAA trophy in 2012 when they rolled past Oakland Catholic, 56-37.
“They are very athletic and they shoot the ball well,” McConnell said about the Patriots. “They play really good defense. They press. If we can handle the press and take care of the ball and knock down some shots, I think that would be really helpful for us.”
Much like Chartiers Valley, the Patriots, led by head coach Rennie Shields, have a balanced attack on offense led by senior Mary DeSimone, who hit four 3-pointers and scored 16 points in a quarterfinal victory over rival Archbishop Wood.
In the state semifinals on Tuesday, junior Erin Sweeney, who earlier in the state playoffs reached the 1,000-point mark for her career, scored 19 points, and freshman Grace O’Neill added 15 points in a seven-point win.
“We’re going to have our hands full,” McConnell said. “They also rebound the ball really well. This is a good team.”
Both teams have amped up the defense in the PIAA postseason. Chartiers Valley held all four of its opponents under 45 points, while Archbishop Carroll has kept three opponents under 40 points.
“When you get down to where we’re at, you’re talking about quality teams.” McConnell said. “When you look at (Tuesday) night, I thought TJ played great defense and we played great defense and the score was in the 40’s.
“At this point you have teams that are well coached, and they know what they need to do, and I think that is why scoring is down.”
Another reason scoring is down is Chartiers Valley has shown a willingness to shorten the fourth quarter when it has the lead, playing a version of the four-corner offense. The two keys in trying to kill clock is handling the basketball and hitting free throws, which McConnell admits has been an issue recently with his team.
“We’re usually a pretty good foul shooting team, but lately, I don’t know what it is,” he said.
The Colts were 9 of 14 in the second half from the free throw line against Oakland Catholic in the quarterfinals and 10 of 15 from the line against Thomas Jefferson in the semifinals.
McConnell has won seven total WPIAL championships but has never won a PIAA crown. He was 0-2 in state title games as CV’s boys’ coach, losing in 1998 to Steelton-Highspire and again in 2010 to Neumann-Goretti.
His message to his team when they arrive at the Giant Center in Hershey on Saturday will be a simple one.
“I want them to enjoy the experience, but I want them to know what we are going there for,” he said. “We’re not going there to be star-struck and walk into the arena and say, well, we’re here. We can’t be in awe of just being there, we have to be ready to play.”
Don Rebel hosts the Rebel Yell podcasts for HSSN.
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