Defensive strategy key for Latrobe girls against 2-time reigning champion Chartiers Valley

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021 | 4:10 PM


Latrobe is willing to throw a number of defenses at Chartiers Valley to see if one sticks.

The sixth-seeded Wildcats (14-2), who are further along in the WPIAL playoffs than they have been in 23 years, face an ominous task in the Class 5A semifinals.

The No. 2 Colts (21-3) are on the path to a third straight WPIAL title. They have won 78 of their last 81 games and feature one of the most talented lineups in the WPIAL.

Latrobe, though, isn’t exactly clutching its pearls at the site of Chartiers Valley.

“We’re ready for any challenge at this point,” Latrobe senior guard Ava Vitula said. “For us, no matter who we play, it’s about execution, and knowing game situational things helps us a a lot better, especially in the fourth quarter.”

Latrobe handled another late lead with poise as it took down No. 3 seed Hampton, 53-48, in the quarterfinals.

The Wildcats have been cutting it close: Their last four wins are by a total of 18 points.

“I’m getting more grey hairs,” Latrobe coach Mark Burkhardt said.

Now, about defense and Chartiers Valley …

“We came out in a 1-2-2 (zone) and (Hampton) shredded it inside and out with their shooters,” Burkhardt said. “We went to a 2-3 and that helped us get some steals. We have several different looks (defensively). And we can run; we’re not slow.”

Latrobe also dabbled in some man-to-man with more guards on the floor Monday night.

So, which approach will work against the Colts and 600-plus-win coach Tim McConnell?

“We’ll have to see,” Burkhardt said. “When you get this far you have to play the best teams. Our girls will be up for the challenge.”

Latrobe was thrilled to hold off another opponent, negotiate a tight finish and move its way further left on the bracket.

“I have no words,” senior guard Rachel Ridilla said after scoring 12 points and once again making some late free throws. “We’re making history. We’re having so much fun.”

Ridilla had heard about someone mention Chartiers Valley’s state-record winning streak, which had reached 64 games earlier this season before Trinity — the top seed who could await the winner in the finals — defeated the Colts, 49-42, on Jan 23.

That the streak ended and a new one began did not take away from Latrobe’s respect for the Colts.

“We know we have to play our best game, our most complete game,” Ridilla said.

Chartiers Valley is ranked No. 3 in the state and can score in waves. It put up 100 points against Lincoln Park (75 in the first half), and 91 against Gateway, a team Latrobe barely beat in two meetings.

Latrobe hopes its size can create matchup problems, although Division I guards Perri Page (Columbia) and Aislin Malcolm (Pitt) are both 6-footers.

Wildcats 6-2 junior Anna Rafferty and 6-1 sophomore Emma Blair, who had three key steals late against Hampton, each average a double-double.

The guards will face their toughest test, and the Wildcats will likely need their most resolute of defensive efforts to play with the Colts, who went 30-0 two years ago and were 27-0 last year when covid-19 reared its ugly head.

“We’re just so happy and blessed to be able to play this year,” Burkhardt said, nodding to the pandemic. “I felt for our four seniors because I wanted them to be able to play. To get to the semis, for them, is great. Hopefully we can go out and get another one.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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