Latrobe girls basketball integrates guarded approach

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Wednesday, January 26, 2022 | 4:46 PM


Latrobe has gained some attention around WPIAL girls basketball circles because of its height and old-school post play.

The Wildcats have a size advantage that teams envy. They are a skyscraper in a Class 5A skyline.

But watch the team play this season and it’s clear there is much more to the lineup than “bigs.”

Latrobe has plenty of talent in the backcourt, too. The frontcourt — “Twin Towers” Anna Rafferty and Emma Blair — still are the top option. But they are often backlit by the guards.

“We have been developing our post game. It’s years in the making,” Rafferty, a senior forward, said. “But our guards — Camille (Dominick), Elle (Snyder), Bailey (Watson) and Josie (Straigis) have worked extremely hard, and that is very evident.”

Senior Bailey Watson runs the point, while sophomore Elle Snyder and 6-foot junior Camille Dominick are the wings.

“Whenever the team needs it, we’re able to shoot the 3. We made nine in a game this year,” said Watson, who was a part-time starter last season. “We have been able to do more with our outside game. Any shot is a good shot.”

The Wildcats (10-2, 6-0), ranked No. 5 in WPIAL Class 5A heading into Wednesday’s game at Woodland Hills, were alone in first place in Section 4 after a 66-65 upset over then-No. 4 McKeesport, the statement game if there is one of their schedule.

“That gave us a huge leg up,” Watson said.

They also earned an impressive, 76-65 victory over Woodland Hills, holding off a late comeback by the Wolverines, who put up 30 points in the final eight minutes.

Coach Mark Burkhardt entered the locker room after the win with a loud, Jimmy Johnson-esque “How ‘bout them Latrobe Wildcats?”

How ‘bout them guards?

Watson runs the show and gives the team seven points and five assists per game. Snyder has accelerated as a scorer, putting up a team-best 15-point average. She made five 3s in a game.

With some of the scoring load off of Rafferty (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Blair (11 ppg, 11 rpg), Latrobe can do more offensively — and less with backs to the basket.

Rafferty and Blair can clean up the missed perimeter shots by plucking down offensive rebounds.

When they get a defensive rebound, the Wildcats can go a number of ways: give-and-go, fast break or set up in the half-court.

And opponents’ approach to defense has changed because of it.

“It’s keeping teams honest,” Burkhardt said of the guard play. “If we keep shooting the ball like we’ve been shooting it, teams aren’t going to pack it in on us as much.”

“Teams have to adjust to how we play,” said Rafferty, a 6-foot-2 IUP commit and the reigning Trib Westmoreland player of the year who is recovering from a recent knee injury. She did not play Monday against Penn Hills.

Rafferty continues to face double teams in the paint. But now she can flick the ball to the outside for a 3 or mid-range jumper when she gets hounded on the low block. And she can do so with trust and confidence in teammates.

“Now we can make them pay for it,” Burkhardt said of the double-teams.

Dominick also has taken on an elevated role, producing 10 points a game while showing versatility. She scored 19 against Indiana and 18 in the win over Woodland Hills, making five 3-pointers in each game.

“Camille has developed a shot,” Burkhardt said. “She’s our shooting big.”

Dominick helped fill in at the post when Rafferty went down with a knee injury against Woodland Hills during the third quarter.

Junior forward Josie Straigus, freshman Carley Burke and sophomore Belle Blossey come off the bench. The latter two are guards.

With the inside-outside options in place, the Wildcats are learning how to utilize each in situations and against teams.

“Our guards have really handled pressure well,” Burkhardt said. “That really gives us an advantage on the backside of the press. The girls don’t panic anymore.”

Latrobe blew a nine-point lead late against Indiana in the second game of the season and lost, 53-50.

“We learned from that,” Burkhardt said. “And the McKeesport game was a playoff atmosphere; huge crowd. Our girls handled it well.”

The team’s other loss was to 5A No. 1 Chartiers Valley, 64-43. The Wildcats also lost to the powerhouse Colts in last year’s WPIAL semifinals.

“There are some really high-quality teams in 5A,” Burkhardt said. “There are probably eight or nine that can be a factor.”

Latrobe is one of them.

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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