Late free throws the difference as Oakland Catholic gets by McKeesport

Saturday, March 18, 2023 | 6:18 PM

In a physical game that’s being closely called, free throws down the stretch become even more important.

McKeesport learned that lesson the hard way Saturday as key free throws contributed to Oakland Catholic’s 60-59 comeback win in overtime in their quarterfinal matchup in the PIAA Class 5A girls basketball playoffs at Peters Township.

With the game tied at 59-59 in overtime, Oakland Catholic (25-4) sophomore London Creach drew a blocking foul by McKeesport (23-6) junior Kaylee Charles under the basket with 3.7 seconds remaining. Creach missed the first of two free throws but drained the second to give the Eagles the lead.

“They were calling everything they saw,” Oakland Catholic coach Eddie Benton said. “I’m just happy our last play went our way. I thought at the last second she slid in. We are just fortunate the call went our way.”

After a timeout, McKeesport junior Brooke Evans took the inbounds pass and heaved a half-court shot that hit the rim at the final buzzer.

The Eagles were led by senior Alexa Washington’s 24 points. After a rough first half, Washington scored 17 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“In the locker room, I told them anything is possible in the game of basketball. It’s a game of runs,” Washington said. “When we came out from halftime, I got my shots up and I kept telling myself that we need my shot to win and that’s what kept going through my mind.”

With the win, the Eagles will face South Fayette (27-2) in the semifinals Tuesday. It will be a rematch of the WPIAL finals where South Fayette beat Oakland Catholic, 64-49, on March 4. South Fayette beat Cathedral Prep, 40-37, at the buzzer Saturday to advance to the rematch.

The Eagles, who have seven state titles in program history, last won one in 2012.

In the early going, it didn’t look like it was going to be a close game as the Tigers jumped out to a 16-2 lead. The Eagles didn’t score their first field goal until senior Rachel Haver’s basket with 15 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Oakland Catholic kept chipping away at the Tigers lead and was down only seven, 30-23, at halftime. Senior Halena Hill scored 13 of her 14 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers.

The Eagles held the Tigers to three points in the third quarter and cut the deficit to one entering the fourth.

Oakland Catholic did not have a lead in the entire game until Washington drove to the basket, got fouled and scored to get an opportunity for a three-point play with 4:22 remaining in regulation. The Eagles took a 43-40 lead at that point.

“I kept telling the girls to play until the final horn,” Benton said. “I don’t care how much we are up and how much we are down, our work ethic shouldn’t change. They kept plugging away. We found a way to cut to seven at the half and we were playing bad. We found a way. That’s a great team.”

The lead switched hands four times in the final moments in regulation.

With a one-point lead with 41.5 seconds remaining, McKeesport had a chance to extend its lead. However, junior Madison Hertzler was unable to convert on either of a pair of free throw attempts. The Tigers were 20 for 23 from the free-throw line up until that point.

After getting fouled with 18 seconds remaining, Oakland Catholic senior Jill Gallo converted on one of her two free throws to tie the game up at 49-49. On the ensuing inbounds pass, Washington stole the ball and got fouled. In a one-and-one situation, Washington wasn’t able to convert on the front end as the game went into overtime.

In overtime, both teams scored most of their points from the line, which is fitting for how the game ended. The Tigers went 6 for 8 from the line in the extra frame. The Eagles went 6 for 9.

Before the late foul call that put Creach on the line in the final seconds, the Eagles got a big 3-pointer from junior Raygen Hintemeyer to take a 59-57 lead with 30 seconds remaining. Hintemeyer replaced Haver, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

“I tell her all the time, when you’re open, just let it go,” Benton said. “Don’t hesitate and don’t think about it. If you’re open, let it go. She didn’t hesitate and that thing went down.”

Charles drew a foul on Creach with 17 seconds remaining and drained both her free throws to tie the game at 59-59 before the roles were reversed on the ensuing Eagles possession.

The Tigers were led by junior Rachael Manfredo (21 points) and senior Malina Boord (15). Manfredo went 13 of 14 from the line, while Boord hit four 3-pointers in the loss.

Haver had 14 points in the win.

Oakland Catholic and McKeesport were no strangers to each other. The Eagles beat McKeesport three times leading up to their matchup in the state playoffs. In their most recent matchup, Oakland Catholic beat McKeesport, 58-51, in the semifinals of the WPIAL playoffs on Feb. 28.

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