Laurel digs deep on defense, upsets No. 1 Serra Catholic in Class 2A semifinals

Monday, February 24, 2020 | 10:44 PM

A slow start, nearly 20 turnovers and foul trouble are part of the formula for an upset, and No. 1 seed Serra Catholic found out the hard way in a WPIAL Class 2A girls basketball semifinal Monday at Peters Township.

Fourth-seeded Laurel played great defense, shut down the Eagles’ Rayna Andrews and led from start to finish in a 48-32 win to advance to the WPIAL championship game.

“We wanted to try to get everyone involved on the defensive end of the floor,” Laurel coach Matthew Stebbins said. “We battled through some foul trouble, and we were able to stop them when they made their push. We wanted to hold them down, a low-scoring game is what we wanted.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this team.”

With three freshmen in the starting lineup, the Spartans (17-7) never looked back after Danielle Pontius hit a 3-pointer to start the game.

Regan Atkins paced the Spartans with a game-high 21 points, including four 3-pointers.

After leading 11-5 at the end of the first quarter, Laurel extended its lead to 20-12 by halftime.

“We just didn’t match their fire coming out,” longtime Serra Catholic coach Bill Cleary said. “They came out with a lot of intensity defensively. Then we came out defensively and we weren’t sliding properly and gave up too many open shots. And they hit them.”

In the game, the Eagles finished 9 of 38 from the field and 11 of 20 from the free-throw line.

“Yeah, that’s not good. Neither one,” Cleary said.

Andrews, a senior, didn’t score her first point until she hit a free throw in the third quarter at the 6 minute, 36 seconds mark. She finished with four points.

“She’s a heck of a player,” Stebbins said of Andrews. “We wanted to limit her points and her touches overall.”

Chloe Pordash and Grace Navarro each finished with nine points for Serra Catholic (17-4).

The Eagles tried to make their push in the third quarter, but Atkins hit back-to-back 3-pointers to extend the Spartans’ lead to 28-15 in a span of 45 seconds.

Serra kept fighting, going on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to six with 55 seconds to go in the third. But Laurel’s Faith Gibson responded with a three-point play after getting hit inside on a layup to make it 33-24 at the end of the quarter.

“We were able to hold them off there late in the third and got a big basket before the end,” Stebbins said. “We worked hard to stop their run. We know they’re a well-oiled machine. They’re a great program.”

In the fourth, the Eagles went on an 8-2 run to make it 39-32 after baskets by Andrews, Navarro and a 3-pointer from Nicole Pawlowski with 3:20 to go. But those were the final points for Serra.

Foul trouble crept back up on them as Navarro and Andrews fouled out, and the Spartans were able to beat the Eagles’ pressure and hit their free throws to close the game with a 9-0 run.

“We’ve had some great teams at Laurel over the past few years. We graduated some seniors, like our softball team did, but these girls have watched those girls and want to emulate their success,” Stebbins said. “Now it’s their time on the floor.”

The Spartans will face No. 2 Bishop Canevin at 5 p.m. Thursday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

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