Defending champion Mohawk puts down upstart Beaver Falls

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 | 8:54 PM

All season, Mohawk coach Mike O’Lare has talked to his team about creating a new story to be remembered to go along with winning the school’s first WPIAL girls basketball title a year ago.

The sequel has had some different variables in it, but the Warriors are one win away from getting the same result.

The second-seeded Warriors opened up a 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter and put an end to No. 13 Beaver Falls’ Cinderella run with a 61-31 home victory in the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals Wednesday evening.

Mohawk (16-4) advanced to face top-seeded North Catholic in the championship game at 5 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny.

“I knew that we could do it,” Mohawk senior guard Page Julian said about getting back to the finals. “We’re a tight knit group. We lost Karly (McCutcheon) (to graduation), but we had everyone else back. We all had the same mentality to try and get there a second year in a row.”

Mohawk returned four of five starters from last year’s team and showed the poise of a veteran group early on against the upstart Tigers.

Hannah McDanel and Nadia Lape connected on a pair of 3-pointers each that helped the Warriors build a 25-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, and they led by double digits for the duration. McDanel scored 10 points and Julian had seven in the first quarter.

Julian and McDanel finished with 20 points apiece and Lape scored 13.

It was the third meeting between the Section 1 foes. All four teams in the Class 3A semifinals were from Section 1.

“We approached it like a section game instead of a semifinal,” Lape said. “We played them twice before, and coach said to not stress over it. We knew their style and their plays, so we just wanted to go out there and have fun, play hard and do what we know how to do.”

After a pair of upsets in overtime against Brentwood and Waynesburg, Beaver Falls’ impressive run through the bracket game came to an end. The Tigers, who won five games in the regular season, dressed only seven players throughout their run and five of them were freshmen.

Macyla Collins, the Tigers’ lone senior, scored nine points and Cali Legzdin scored eight.

“Coach (Dom) Henderson has done a great job with them the last few weeks,” O’Lare said. “That just doesn’t happen. It had to have been building for them to go in and upset a couple of teams. We knew they weren’t going to back off tonight.”

In addition to trying to win a second consecutive title, the Warriors will try to stop North Catholic’s drive for five. The Trojanettes won the last four Class 4A titles before dropping down to Class 3A this season.

North Catholic won the two regular season meetings, 54-38 and 58-49.

“It’s funny, because normally when you’re playing for a championship or even in the semifinals, you’re usually playing someone new, and you have 48 hours to prepare, and you’re pretty much pulling an all-nighter scouting, but we know what they do and they know what we do,” O’Lare said. “I feel like we are better defensively since the last time we played them. We’ll have a game plan ready, but we’re going to have to score with them, because they can really score and they can defend. That’s what you expect when you’re playing in a final.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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