Frontcourt duo gives Latrobe girls a towering presence in paint

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021 | 5:30 PM


It’s picture day at Latrobe. Someone says they should snap a photo of the “twin towers.”

The photographer aims the lens upward to capture the Wildcats’ dynamic duo.

“It’s pretty cool they call us that,” said Wildcats junior forward Anna Rafferty, one-half of the long post pair that also consists of sophomore forward Emma Blair. “One of my friends called us that, and then she said she saw it in the paper. She’s like, ‘Hey, that was my idea.’”

Blair chuckles.

“It’s neat,” she said. “We get it.”

The 6-foot-2 Rafferty and 6-1 Blair have formed an imposing paint presence for the Wildcats, who take an 8-1 record into Thursday’s game at Greensburg Salem.

This isn’t quite Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon, of Houston Rockets fame, but Latrobe is glad to have Rafferty and Blair handy to reach the top shelf.

“When we play them, it makes me miss Lexi Jackson,” Gateway coach Curtis Williams said of his former 6-3 standout now at Kent State. “(Rafferty and Blair) do such a good job with their positioning. They get down on the block and hold their spot there.”

Both starters since they were freshmen, Rafferty and Blair each average a double-double — Rafferty 13 points and 11 rebounds, Blair 12 and 14.

Against Gateway on Monday, Rafferty went for 18 points and 20 rebounds, while Blair registered 15 and 17.

“We’ll take whatever advantage we can,” Latrobe coach Mark Burkhardt said. “But we know it’s tough to match up with Anna and Emma.”

Latrobe knows what it will get with Rafferty and Blair: points and rebounds. Lots of points and rebounds.

With the pair, the team has complete confidence and knows it can stand on their shoulders to see the top of the Section 4-5A standings.

It’s the kind of trust people put in traffic lights, salt trucks and calculators. The job will get done and the problem solved with their “bigs,” and the Wildcats won’t think twice about it.

Latrobe is 7-0 in section. The Wildcats, whose only loss is to Class 6A No. 2 Upper St. Clair, have the look of a well-balanced unit that can play from outside in, but they aren’t locked into an old-school half-court sets. They have other options.

“We like being a post-up team,” Rafferty said. “But we have good guards too. We know we have shooters.”

Said Burkhardt: “If teams try to take Anna and Emma away, we can kick it out to Rachel (Ridilla), Elle (Snyder), Ava (Vitula) and Lex (Weatherton).”

Rebounding is where Rafferty and Blair shine. According to team stats, Latrobe gets a defensive rebound 70.5% of the time and offensive rebounds at a 49.4% clip.

The Wildcats get 25 of their 53.2 points in the paint.

Rafferty, who has college interest from Albany, Delaware, Chicago State and Seton Hill, said she and Blair compete to make each other better.

“We work on our post moves in practice,” she said. “We go against each other. We know each other’s moves, so we try to come up with some new stuff.”

Blair also is expected to draw college attention.

“Playing more together has made us a lot better,” said Blair, a three-sport athlete who also plays softball and volleyball. “Playing AAU together has been big for us.”

Rafferty and Blair play for the Western PA Bruins, a reputable AAU club of considerable note known for producing Division I and II talent. The pair played on the same team this past season.

Blair said her uptick on the court has swayed her toward basketball as a favorite sport. She is a 6-1 catcher in softball.

“It’s faster and I like it better,” said Blair, who led Latrobe in minutes played last season as a freshman. “I’m still going to play (the other sports), but basketball is what I want to do in college.”

Burkhardt said he thought this year’s team could be “special” because it is made up of players who have been with him and his staff since they took over six years ago.

Latrobe returned all of its starters and eight letterwinners from a 12-10 team.

“In the past, our girls would take the floor and say, ‘Ooh, look at that team,’” Burkhardt said of past opponents. “Now we want teams to look at us that way.”

If they do, they’ll have to look up at at least two players who tower above them in warmups.

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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