The section standings were uneven, but the ladder underneath the basket was sturdy as Latrobe girls basketball players climbed the rungs and each snipped a piece of the net.
Latrobe isn’t worried about the WPIAL not recognizing section champions because of unbalanced records this season, and the Wildcats celebrated their section title, nonetheless, cutting down the net for the first time since 2006-07 with a 46-44 victory over visiting Woodland Hills on Thursday night in the Section 4-5A finale.
“It was an amazing that we finally did it,” said sophomore forward Emma Blair, who pulled down a key rebound with 4 seconds remaining. “We’re section champs.”
No. 5-ranked Latrobe (12-2, 9-1) went on an 8-0 run in the final five-plus minutes to take the lead for good and finally gain some separation on the defending section champion and fourth-ranked Wolverines (11-5, 10-2).
The teams split their late-season series, and Latrobe finished slightly higher in the standings on win percentage. Covid won’t put an asterisk next to this title — not in the Wildcats’ minds.
“We actually said we talk about the season as a ladder,” Latrobe coach Mark Burkhardt said. “We’re on the first step and tonight, literally, we can get to the top. And I think that’s what we did with the game, the section and the program tonight.”
An oddly scheduled game that came after the WPIAL playoff pairings were released still had bells and whistles. Woodland Hills is the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and Latrobe is 6. It played out as such, like a playoff matchup.
“We had some opportunities that were negated tonight,” Woodland Hills coach Von Pitts said. “We missed some crucial foul shots and didn’t rebound early. You have to take your hat off to Latrobe. I hope they do well in the playoffs.”
After Latrobe went ahead, 46-41, on two free throws by senior Rachel Ridilla with 54.5 seconds left, Wolverines senior Peyton Pinkney made two of her own. Shortly thereafter, junior Jazmine Dunn hit 1 of 2 free throws for Woodland Hills to cut it to 46-44 with 23.2 left.
Junior Kayla Walter fired up a deep 3 from the wing for Woodland Hills, but it missed, and Blair ripped down the miss with 4 seconds to play.
“Emma showed such toughness and poise for a sophomore,” Burkhardt said. “That was a big rebound. She’d done it all year.”
The Wildcats couldn’t quite ice at the foul line, missing three straight attempts inside the final 20 seconds, but it didn’t matter. Woodland Hills was whistled for a turnover on the inbounds — freshman Hope Hawkins moved after the referee handed her the ball.
“We’re the kind of team where it’s never over until the clock finally stops,” Ridilla said.
Junior 6-2 forward Anna Rafferty and the 6-1 Blair sparked the go-ahead run with a sequence that went, Rafferty, Blair, Rafferty, Blair.
“We knew we were going to cut down the net so we had to make sure we didn’t get ahead of ourselves,” Blair said.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .