Latrobe celebrates ‘section’ title with win against Woodland Hills

Thursday, February 25, 2021 | 10:36 PM

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.

“Us for seniors have been dreaming of that for the past four years,” Ridilla said. “We’re so happy, especially in a year like this. Everything is crazy. It couldn’t go any better.”

Blair finished with eight points.

“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.

Even the twin towers needed a ladder to snip the net after they stood tall again for the Wildcats.

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.

Rafferty scored on a nifty up-and-under layup off an inbounds pass.

“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.

Athletic director Mark Mears held still the ladder as each player and coach made the climb.

Blair took a nice feed from senior Lexi Weatherton and finished inside to make it 44-39 with 2:10 to go.

Latrobe took better care of the ball late in a turnover-laden fourth.

Rafferty finished with 14 points. Freshman Elle Snyder also scored eight and senior Ava Vitula chipped in seven.

In the third, Woodland Hills opened its largest lead , at 37-31, on a 3-pointer by Walter. That basket extended a 9-2 run. The lead switched sides four times in the quarter.

Latrobe regained control with 5:05 left in the fourth on a short jumper from Blair that made it 40-39.

Wolverines senior Peyton Pinkney scored the first five points in the game to reach 1,000 for her career. The Eastern Michigan commit finished with 15.

Walter added nine, and Hawkins had seven.

Woodland Hills, which had a four-game winning streak snapped, hit three 3s in the opening quarter to take a 17-14 edge and led 26-23 at the half.

In the teams’ earlier meeting, Woodland Hills outscored Latrobe in the fourth, 13-5. This time, Latrobe had 14 points and the Wolverines, seven.

Latrobe’s other loss is to Class 6A No. 2 seed Upper St. Clair.

Both teams will start the playoffs next Thursday. Latrobe gets the preliminary-round winner of South Fayette and Connellsville, while Woodland Hills plays the winner between Armstrong and Franklin Regional.

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

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