North Catholic girls fight off challenge from Central Valley in 4A second round

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | 9:40 PM

There’s an understanding among the North Catholic Trojanettes that they are going to get everyone’s best.

They’re the top-ranked team in the state in Class 4A and were runners-up in last year’s state tournament, so when they take the court, they expect to have a battle on their hands.

For the second state playoff game in a row, they found themselves trailing in the third quarter, but they clawed their way back, and led by a strong second half by Kylee Lewandowski, they got the job done.

Lewandowski scored 14 of her team-best 23 points in the second half and North Catholic earned a hard-fought 53-49 win over Central Valley in the second round the PIAA Class 4A playoffs Wednesday night at North Hills.

On Saturday, the Trojanettes (26-1) trailed by eight points in the second half against Freeport before pulling away for a 58-43 win. Wednesday, they were down six to the Warriors (19-5) in the third quarter, but Lewandowski scored 12 points in the frame. That helped give the Trojanettes a 45-39 lead by the end of the quarter and they never trailed again.

“I knew Saturday was going to be a battle, and I knew tonight was going to be one too,” North Catholic coach Molly Rottman said. “The WPIAL has some very good teams in it. Chris (Raso) is a good coach. We know we’re not going to just show up and win. Every game is going to be a good game. I think we made some mistakes tonight too, and we’ll learn from them.”

North Catholic advanced to play District 6 champion Forest Hills (26-1) in the quarterfinals Saturday at a site and time to be determined.

Buoyed by a strong effort from Clarion recruit Allyson Kirby, the Warriors held a 31-25 lead in the third, but North Catholic finished the quarter on a 20-8 run. Lewandowski, a Richmond recruit, hit a pair of 3-pointers, a jumper inside the foul line and two layups, one at the buzzer off an inbounds pass, during that stretch.

“(Lewandowski) did that in the Freeport game as well,” Rottman said. “She wasn’t hitting shots in the first half of that game and then came out and shot well. She hits the offensive boards really well and that creates problems for other teams.

“We had a couple of offensive rebounds (in the third quarter). Emma (Pospisil) had one and found (Lewandowski) on a putback. Any one of our girls can be a difference maker. It’s been Emma, it’s been Tess (Myers), and it’s been Kylie the last couple games. What we need them all to do is crash the boards and play good defense.”

Raso felt Central Valley needed to be around 55 points to beat the Trojanettes, and there were times in the fourth quarter where they had opportunities to cut it to a one-possession game but missed the front end of a one-and-one twice and had a pair of turnovers.

“You only get so many chances against that team and if you get them, you better take advantage of them,” Raso said.

Kirby finished with 23 points. She connected on five 3-pointers, including one she banked in that tied the score 22-22 late in the second half. She also hit a pair of free throws in the final five seconds to give the Warriors a two-point advantage at halftime.

Kirby continued to produce in the third, scoring 10 points.

In the fourth, Rottman switched up the defense and had Myers front Kirby to try to limit her ability to get the ball with space. Rottman commended Myers for her defensive effort.

“Allyson did a good job of find open spots by moving without the ball,” Raso said. “She was getting good looks early. They changed some things defensively by putting Myers on her. We knew it was going to be a struggle to score points when that happened, but we were there. We just didn’t make the plays at the end. That’s basketball.”

Myers, a Duquesne recruit, finished with 15 points. Christiane Frye had 12 points for the Warriors and Alyssa Gillin scored 10.

Central Valley graduates four starters: Frye, Kirby, Hannah Engelman and Lauren Kostosky.

“I just told them I was extremely proud of them for going in and battling,” Raso said. “That’s all we ask in this program is for them to compete and give an effort. I thought we did that very well tonight.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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