While supporting grieving teammate, North Catholic fends off Freedom to reclaim WPIAL Class 3A crown

Thursday, March 3, 2022 | 8:45 PM

It’s not easy to play in a championship basketball game the same day as your mother’s funeral.

But there was Anastasia Peterson, on the floor for North Catholic on Thursday night in the WPIAL Class 3A title game.

Peterson only scored two points — but it was a basket that came in a key part of the fourth period to help the Trojanettes win their 21st WPIAL title, 48-43, over Freedom at Peteresen Events Center.

“These last couple of days have been hard, not only mentally, but physically,” Peterson said. “It’s nice having a team that is willing to drive an hour to come to the funeral, calls, texting me, just picking me up (while) on the court. But my mom (Jennifer) certainly would have wanted me to play tonight.”

It was also a team effort at the foul line to win it. The Trojanettes scored 11 of their 15 points in the fourth period from the foul line.

“That was a key,” coach Molly Rottmann said of the free throw success. “We missed a couple early on. The last time we played them, we were 6 of 16 from the line and we talked a lot about this week, especially making the front end of one-and-ones.”

After beating Freedom twice during section play, it looked like North Catholic was on its way to a big win, taking a 21-12 lead on Dacia Lewandowski’s short jumper with 4 minutes, 44 seconds left in the half.

But the Bulldogs, playing in the school’s first WPIAL title game, had other ideas. A steal by Renae Mohrbacher and a basket with 39.2 seconds left in the half cut the Trojanettes lead to 24-21 at the half.

“From the beginning of the year, I thought we were one of the best teams in 3A, and tonight was not a disappointment,” said Freedom coach John Kaercher. “We went toe-to-toe with the giant. Unfortunately, we came up a little bit short tonight.”

Sophomore Alayna Rocco led the way for the Trojanettes with 15 points. Lewandowski had 13 and hit four crucial foul shots in the final period. Victoria Drevna had 11 points and added four more fourth period free throws.

Mohrbacher, headed to Robert Morris to play soccer, had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Her sister, Julz, tied the game at 27-all with a basket midway through the third period and Shaye Bailey tied it again at 31-31 with 1:22 left in the third quarter.

Lewandowski answered with a basket 29 seconds later to give North Catholic the lead for good.

Bailey’s 3-pointer with 1:01 to go cut the deficit to 43-41, but the Trojanettes’ foul shooting gave the team a little breathing room.

“As a team, I knew we had to get confident and stay poised on the court, no matter what was going on during the game,” Lewandowski said. “We just stayed together as a team and rode it out.”

Freedom managed to shoot just 28.8% on the night but outrebounded the Trojanettes, 39-28, collecting an amazing 25 offensive boards.

Said Rottmann: “We were trying to get into transition, but we weren’t getting the boards, and that was an issue. I give them credit. They played hard. That’s the way they play. They stuck to their game plan.”

Both teams move on to the PIAA playoffs Tuesday night. North Catholic will play Westmont Hilltop and Freedom will battle Penn Cambria. Both games are expected to be held in WPIAL territory.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

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