No. 1 North Catholic fights off serious challenge from Freeport

Monday, January 27, 2020 | 11:21 PM

Coming into Monday’s game, North Catholic girls basketball had won 54 section games in a row — all but one of them by double digits — so when Freeport tied the game with five minutes remaining, it presented a situation that hadn’t come up in a while.

The Yellowjackets had defended hard and played step for step with the top-ranked Class 4A team in the state, but standout senior Tess Myers wasn’t about to let North Catholic’s streak end on her watch.

Following a timeout, Myers took control and scored on layups on three consecutive possessions, and North Catholic escaped Freeport Middle School with a 52-41 victory.

The Trojanettes finished the game on a 15-2 run. During the timeout, North Catholic coach Molly Rottmann told her players they needed to stop settling for outside shots and get to the hole, and Myers obliged.

“She absolutely has the ability to take over and has done it, so we expected her to do that,” Rottmann said. “She came through and she was smart.

“They left her go one one one, versus having someone to rotate to help, and she took advantage of it.”

Myers, a Duquesne recruit, finished with a game-high 18 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. She also had two offensive rebounds off missed free throws in the final couple of minutes.

North Catholic, the three-time defending WPIAL champs, improved to 49-0 all-time in Section 1-4A play since moving to the classification in the 2016-17 season, but it didn’t get No. 49 without a fight.

“Whenever we come in here, we know it’s to be a good game,” Rottmann said. “Freeport gets up for it, and it’s a great environment.”

Both teams grinded through a tough shooting first half and went into the locker room tied 16-16. North Catholic (17-1, 11-0) started the third on a 10-0 run, but Freeport (12-5, 9-2) kept within striking distance and clawed back into it.

A 3-pointer from Grace Soilis to open the fourth cut the North Catholic lead to 37-33. Harley Holloway followed with a pair of free throws and later hit a turnaround shot in the paint that tied the game 37-37.

“I told my coaches that before the second half started that we couldn’t go down to them, but we did and then we bounced back,” Freeport coach Fred Soilis said. “That was great. We played some great defense, and I was proud of their effort.

“We showed that we could play with them. The one thing we did do that we hadn’t done in a while is put together four quarters against them. That was the main thing I wanted us to do, and we did that.”

Holloway also took a couple of charges on Myers in the second half that was part of a defensive effort that helped Freeport climb back into the game.

“I told them at halftime that someone needed to take a charge,” Soilis said. “I said that I’d feel good about it and they would feel good about it. I asked (Holloway) how she felt after she took the second charge, and she said, ‘Good,’ and I said, ‘So do I.’”

Maddie Clark led Freeport with 11 points. She fouled out late in the fourth. Freshman Melaina DeZort added 10 points for the Yellowjackets.

Both teams have clinched playoff spots. Going forward, Soilis is hopeful his players can replicate what they put out on the floor on Monday.

“If we can get the effort that we get when we play (North Catholic) day in and day out, we’ll be fine,” Soilis said.

Prior to the game, 24 seconds of silence were observed in memory of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the seven other people who were killed in a helicopter accident Sunday outside of Los Angeles.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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