Latrobe girls eke out 1st-round win over South Fayette

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Thursday, March 4, 2021 | 9:25 PM


Latrobe has been working on situational plays in practice to get ready for the potentially tight fourth quarters it might see in the playoffs.

Inbounds plays and careful possessions are a sidecar to mentally handling the pressure that comes with late leads.

On Thursday night, the Wildcats girls got to put them to use.

Latrobe handled those elements with poise in its first playoff test, holding off long-bombing South Fayette for a 52-47 victory in a WPIAL Class 5A first-round game at Latrobe.

“This win shows a lot about our work ethic and what we have been working on,” said Wildcats junior forward Anna Rafferty, who had a game-high 16 points. “We handled the pressure well and kept the ball on our side.

“We’re all really anxious to see what we can do from here.”

Sixth-seeded Latrobe (13-2), coming off its first section title since 2006-07, advances to play No. 3 Hampton (15-5) at 6 p.m. Monday in the quarterfinals.

“We had a lot of situations in that fourth quarter and the girls were ready to handle them,” Latrobe coach Mark Burkhardt said. “They showed composure while down in the fourth. It wasn’t a panic situation.”

The Wildcats’ fourth straight win came against a South Fayette team that went into rapid-fire mode from the 3-point line. With Latrobe sagging in a zone, the 11th-seeded Lions (14-6) hit 10 of 40 3s and traded leads late in the first half as a result.

Eventually, the Lions took the lead, but Latrobe made free throws down the stretch to regain control for good on their home floor and end the visitors’ four-game winning streak.

“This was two styles that were totally different,” Burkhardt said.

“We haven’t seen teams like each other. Our girls did a tremendous job running the offense tonight. We were happy to be home. We made history tonight: the first home playoff win in Latrobe girls’ history.”

Latrobe led by nine late in the second quarter but took a precarious 26-22 lead into the second half.

It had control until the Lions hit three straight 3s late in the third to go ahead 39-34. Two came from sophomore Maddie Webber, who finished with 13 points.

The lead switched sides six times from there. After South Fayette freshman Lainey Yater hit a 3 to answer one from Latrobe senior Rachel Ridilla to put the Lions up 47-45, Ridilla made two free throws with 2:36 to play in the fourth to tie it 47-all.

Freshman Elle Snyder followed with one foul shot to give the Wildcats a one-point edge at the 1:16 mark.

With South Fayette shooting so much from deep, team fouls were at a premium, so South Fayette had five fouls to give in the final 32 seconds to get to the bonus and used them all.

Enter those inbounds plays and careful possessions.

Ridilla made two more free throws with 17 seconds left to make it 50-47.

South Fayette inbounded with 10.7 seconds left and the ball came to Webber on the left wing. But her off-balance heave from 3 was off the mark — and maybe a touch early — and Snyder hit two more free throws for the final points.

Latrobe finished 7 of 8 at the foul line in the fourth, all in the final 2:36.

“Rachel’s two free throws were huge,” Burkhardt said. “And a freshman ices it.”

South Fayette coach Bryan Bennett was hoping to get the ball to Webber, but Latrobe forced her to take a tough shot.

“They did a good job getting through the screen,” Bennett said of Latrobe. “Maddie was supposed to get a 3 in the corner, and she got a shot off. We didn’t have a lot of time. It just didn’t go.”

Latrobe was more deliberate on offense and relied on its post players as Rafferty and sophomore Emma Blair once again worked the post and rebounded Lions’ misses. Blair had 12 points and nine rebounds.

Ridilla had 10 points, seven in the fourth.

“Anna and Emma did their jobs,” Burkhardt said. “They really looked for each other tonight.”

Bennett said Latrobe’s “bigs” were all over his scouting report, and for good reason. South Fayette had size to counter the Wildcats, with 6-foot-3 sophomore Ava Leroux playing well in stretches, along with 5-11 Mia Webber.

But the “Twin Towers” were too much.

“We knew their size was going to be the deciding factor,” Bennett said. “We did OK with it, but (Rafferty) is just such a big, strong kid.”

The Lions’ 3-point barrage — 78 attempts in their last two games (38 against Connellsville) — was a result of zone defense.

“We haven’t seen a team like that all year,” Bennett said of Latrobe. “In the past two games, teams packed it in on us. Normally, we’re more evenly balanced. We just didn’t shoot the ball like we can. Our shooters are better than that.”

Junior Giuliana Gaetano added 12 points for the Lions, on four 3s, and Mia Webber scored eight.

Latrobe had not won in the playoffs in two years after going more than a decade without a postseason victory previously.

Burkhardt said the win is good for local basketball.

“The WPIAL is on notice,” Burkhardt said. “Westmoreland County is in the house.”

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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