Defending champion Chartiers-Houston girls hold off Leechburg to reach semifinals

Thursday, February 22, 2018 | 11:48 PM

As unlikely as it appeared just minutes earlier, Leechburg's record-breaking senior class made one last run at some more history.

A 17-point deficit gave way to a one-possession game as Leechburg seized momentum. But the Blue Devils' magic ran out there.

Defending WPIAL champion Chartiers-Houston repelled Leechburg's furious fourth-quarter comeback Thursday, holding on for a 52-45 victory in a Class 2A quarterfinal game at West Allegheny and denying the Blue Devils their first trip to the WPIAL semifinals.

“That just shows you the type of kids they are,” Leechburg coach Joel Ceraso said. “They wanted it, and I feel badly for them. They wanted it so bad, and I thought they earned it. But sometimes that's the way sports is, right?”

No. 6 Leechburg (19-5) trailed by double digits for most of the night, but a 17-5 run cut the score to 48-45 with under a minute remaining.

The Blue Devils looked to have a chance to make it closer when Mikayla Lovelace drew a foul on Alexa Williamson — the Chartiers-Houston star fouled out on the play — with 53.3 seconds remaining. Although Lovelace made the ensuing free throw on the front end of a one-and-one, it was nullified when Brittany Robilio was called for a lane violation.

“I thought that they were jostling and she got kind of pushed in,” Ceraso said. “(The official) said they were just kind of battling and one went in and one went out.”

No. 3 Chartiers-Houston made four free throws and held Leechburg off the scoreboard to seal the victory.

“I told them in the huddle in the last timeout, ‘You've been here before, just try and stay calm,' ” said Chartiers-Houston coach Laura Montecalvo, whose team will play No. 7 Brentwood in the Class 2A semifinals Monday. “It looked like they were calm, and their faces didn't look panicked.”

The game, a rematch of a 60-44 Chartiers-Houston victory in last season's WPIAL quarterfinals, featured a pair of 2,000-point scorers and two of the top players in Class 2A in Lovelace (24.6 points per game) and Williamson (31.8). After a slow start, both players delivered, with Williamson scoring 24 points — 15 in the second half — and Lovelace scoring 22, including a dozen in the final quarter.

The 6-foot-2 Williamson especially made her presence felt on the glass, pulling down 14 rebounds to help Chartiers-Houston (18-5) to a dominant edge in that area of the game. Leechburg's top post player, senior Daesha Knight, spent a significant amount of time out of the game after picking up four first-half fouls.

Chartiers-Houston's size also caused havoc for Leechburg's Class 2A-leading offense. The Bucs, who allow 33 points per game, crowded passing lanes and altered shots in the paint and on the perimeter. Twice, Williamson blocked 3-point attempts.

Leechburg trailed 29-14 at halftime and 37-25 through three quarters.

“(Giving up) 14 points in the first half, we felt really good about that,” Montecalvo said. “We knew Lovelace would come out and put on a show in the second half — she's such a great player — but overall I was pleased.”

Leechburg's offense began to find its footing in the fourth quarter. Cam Davies hit a pair of 3-pointers, the second cutting the score to single digits, and a pair of Lovelace baskets made it 47-42. After a Williamson free throw, Lovelace buried a long 3 to make it 48-45.That was as close as it got. Chartiers-Houston's Madison Simpson, who scored 11 points, hit three free throws, and Keiara Walker made another.

Leechburg's senior class of Hannah Berry, Davies, Makenzie Fello, Knight, Lovelace and Brittany Robilio — the most successful in school history — has won 58 games in four seasons, including the only three playoff victories in school history.

The Blue Devils might not be done yet. By virtue of the WPIAL's follow-the-leader format, they would qualify for the PIAA playoffs if Chartiers-Houston wins its semifinal matchup with Brentwood.

It gives Leechburg something to root for, even amid Thursday's disappointment.

“We wanted a chance to play at the Pete; I think that's what they really looked forward to,” Ceraso said. “They wanted a chance to go to Pittsburgh and play, and I think if we would have won this game, we would have had that chance.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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