No. 1 Shenango captures 1st WPIAL girls basketball championship

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Thursday, March 2, 2023 | 8:31 PM


Julz Mohrbacher made an impact at both ends of the floor Thursday night during the WPIAL Class 3A girls basketball championship.

The Freedom forward had 15 points, seven steals, five assists and eight rebounds.

Her fifth foul, however, proved to be the stat the changed the game and helped No. 1 Shenango secure its first WPIAL championship with a 44-34 victory over the No. 2 Bulldogs at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

After the Freedom senior fouled out with 4 minutes, 46 seconds left, Shenango went on an 11-0 run to take control of the game. Just as Mohrbacher sat on the bench, Shenango turned a steal into a fast break lay-in by senior guard Emilee Fedrizzi on the next possession to take a 36-34 lead.

“Getting that steal and basket in transition really got us motivated and got me pumped up,” said Fedrizzi, who surpassed 1,000 career points in the victory. “From there, we kinda just took over and everything was going our way.”

With Mohrbacher out of the paint, Fedrizzi then scored on a short jumper and another layup to make it 40-34. She then found senior forward Kylee Rubin for an open layup.

“Once we smelled the blood, we kinda just attacked,” Shenango second-year coach Ricci LaRocco said. “If I had to guess, those were our only points in transition all night.”

Rubin had 17 points, and Fedrizzi and senior Janie Natale each finished with 13 points for the Wildcats (22-4), who were playing in the WPIAL final for the first time.

Rubin spent much of her night battling with Mohrbacher in the paint, forcing contact and drawing fouls.

“I knew getting Mohrbacher in foul trouble was important, so being aggressive and getting after it was part of our game plan,” said Rubin, who added five blocks and three rebounds.

Sophomore guard Olivia Henderson hit four 3-pointers and had 12 points for Freedom (20-5), which played without leading scorer Shaye Bailey, who injured her collarbone at the end of the regular season.

“We did a great job controlling them, limited the 3s. It came down to a battle of wills on the inside,” Freedom coach John Kaercher said. “The girls gave us 110%. They left everything out there. We came up a little bit short, but I never lost faith in the girls. I thought the girls never lost faith in each other or in the team aspect that we preach.”

Mohrbacher has stepped up her scoring in the postseason to ease Bailey’s absence, averaging 28.3 points in the Bulldogs’ three playoff victories.

“I knew they were going to come out strong on defense and do whatever they could to try and stop our offense and definitely me in particular,” Mohrbacher said. “I just knew I had to come with confidence, confidence in my teammates and myself that we could continue to keep playing in a meaningful way to get a win.”

The Bulldogs lost in the championship game for the second straight season after falling to North Catholic in the Class 3A title game last year. They then rebounded to finish as PIAA runners-up.

Freedom takes on the District 6 third-place team in the first round of the state tournament, and Kaercher is hopeful Bailey can return before season’s end.

“We’re just hoping we get a little bit healthy,” Kaercher said. “… and make that great run for the states.”

Shenango, which has now won 13 straight games, will host the District 6 fourth-place team in the first round of the PIAA playoffs March 10.

“We’re going to enjoy this. I’m gonna give them a couple days off. … They’ve earned it,” LaRocco said. “They’ve given me everything I can possibly ask for in two years as their head coach. The goal was to win a gold medal. I told them I would try to help them. They’ve taught me more than I can ever teach them.”

Watch an archived video stream broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Bill Hartlep is the TribLive sports editor. A Pittsburgh native and Point Park graduate, he joined the Trib in 2004, covering high school sports. He held various editing roles before assuming his current position in 2019. He can be reached at bhartlep@triblive.com.

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