Fast start lifts No. 5 OLSH to 1st-round win over Mt. Pleasant

Saturday, February 18, 2023 | 3:07 PM

Falling into an early hole in the WPIAL basketball playoffs is often a bad sign, especially for a lower seed.

It certainly didn’t help Mt. Pleasant in its tournament opener.

While the Vikings chipped away at a double-digit deficit, they spent the afternoon feeling remorseful about the opening minutes and fell to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 51-38, in a WPIAL Class 3A first-round basketball game Saturday at Peters Township’s AHN Arena.

The 12-seeded Vikings end the season at 14-9. The loss brings to a close the brilliant career of senior Tiffany Zelmore, who finished with a game-high 26 points in her final high school game.

Mt. Pleasant rallied from a 20-3 deficit to get within five early in the third quarter and make it a game but could not complete the comeback as No. 5 OLSH kept hitting back.

“It’s a testament to the individual character of these girls,” Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi said. “They kept fighting when they easily could have tanked it.”

Zelmore made 15 of 18 free throws, which rivaled the performance of Chargers’ senior Kyleigh Nagy, who also was busy drawing contact. She made 12 of 14 free throws and had a team-high 20 points.

She was 10 for 10 from the line in the second half, including 6 for 6 in the fourth.

“Zelmore is a very hard matchup for us, for anybody,” OLSH coach Don Eckerle said. “She finds a way to get to the foul line.”

OLSH (17-6), the WPIAL runner-up last year, advances to play Avonworth (16-5) in the quarterfinals.

Senior Emma Ficorilli added 14 points for OLSH, connecting on four 3-pointers.

“Emma hit back-to-back 3s that were really big,” Eckerle said. “That kind of got us out of an offensive doldrum.”

Those two 3s happened moments after Zelmore made two free throws to get the Vikings within 27-22.

The Chargers ended the quarter on a 14-5 run, though, to take a 41-27 advantage to the fourth.

“Our zone would collapse, and it freed up some shooters,” Giacobbi said. “We could have done a better job closing out. You win or lose with what got you here, and we weren’t changing. We spotted them (the early lead), and it hurt us.”

After OLSH pushed the lead back to double figures, Zelmore scored on a putback, then hit a 3 to make it 45-37 with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left.

Senior Kara Bridge made a layup, and Nagy hit four free throws, though, to make it a 14-point score that was out of reach for Mt. Pleasant.

Eckerle said Mt. Pleasant made it a game in the first half because the 5-foot-11 Bridge had to sit with foul trouble.

Mt. Pleasant applied its 1-1-3 zone and made shooters work.

“She gets her third foul with two minutes to go in the second quarter,” he said of Bridge. “She’s our best rebounder and defender. That forced us to do more from the perimeter. We usually shoot it pretty well. We were OK today.”

Mt. Pleasant’s day started on an odd note. With the players set around the jump circle, officials paused the start and called an administrative foul on Mt. Pleasant after a starter was missing from the official scorebook.

The missing starter? Zelmore.

“Of all players,” Giacobbi said. “That’s an unusual start to say the least. It was a communication issue. I’m certainly not blaming that for the loss, but it does throw things off.”

OLSH led 10-0 early and stretched it to 18-3 after one.

Zelmore scored 11 in the second quarter, including 9 of 10 free throws, to close the gap to 27-17 at halftime.

Freshman Morgan Gesinski had five of her seven points in the fourth, including a 3 to make it 41-32 with just more than five minutes to play.

Giacobbi said it will be daunting going into next season without Zelmore, who finished with 1,629 career points, second all-time in the program.

She had 663 this season.

“You’re in every game with her,” he said. “That’s 30 a game out the door. We’ll see how that goes.

“I am proud of our girls. We overachieved in a lot of ways.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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