Oakland Catholic makes statement without injured star, drops WPIAL champ South Fayette

Wednesday, March 13, 2024 | 10:05 PM

Oakland Catholic handled its PIAA Class 5A second-round girls basketball playoff game against South Fayette like child’s play Wednesday night.

The first half was Chutes and Ladders as the Eagles kept making shots and climbing the ladder toward a big lead while the Lions kept sliding further into a hole with each empty possession.

In the second half, Oakland Catholic played a well-executed game of Keep Away.

Game night turned into redemption night as Oakland Catholic soundly defeated WPIAL champion South Fayette, 48-28.

On the same Peters Township court a year ago in the PIAA semifinals, South Fayette ended the season of Oakland Catholic, 58-54.

“It feels better because our best player was out,” Oakland Catholic coach Eddie Benton said. “With London (Creach) out, It really showed that our girls are battle tested, and I’m happy to see them have some success with their teammate out.”

Creach, the star junior and leading scorer for the Eagles, was lost with an injury during the WPIAL playoffs.

“I think we’ve been able to have some practices without London and make some adjustments,” Benton said. “Everybody says next person up, but when it’s somebody that caliber, that’s easy to say but it’s tough. Our girls continued to work and stepped up to the challenge.”

Life without Creach has forced Oakland Catholic to change things on the fly. Typically a man-to-man team, the Eagles came out in a zone, throwing South Fayette a curveball it never adjusted to.

“We’re a fast-paced, press-the-whole-game type of team, and I think we shocked them because we never played zone before,” Benton said. “We came out and played the whole game in a zone, so I think we caught them off guard.”

Oakland Catholic started the game scoring the first six points, then later went on a 7-0 run and ended up leading after one quarter, 15-4.

“I thought we came out a little bit passive on the offensive end,” South Fayette coach Bryan Bennett said. “I was shocked he played a zone. That’s probably the first time in two years he’s played a zone. We had some open looks but didn’t convert. Give them credit. Their size and athleticism affected us.”

Leading 18-9 midway through the second quarter, the Eagles finished the half on a 9-1 run to lead at the break, 27-10.

Eagles sophomore Josie Fontana enjoyed a big first half, scoring 10 points while attacking the glass and Lions shooters.

“Josie was very good early on,” Benton said. “I thought she really rebounded the ball. Josie’s done a great job all year long. She rebounds; she alters shots and scores in the paint. She was phenomenal.”

Near the end of the first half, Oakland Catholic started to take the air out of the basketball by spreading the floor and killing clock with each possession.

“I just knew that a couple of 3s and they’re right back in the game,” Benton said. “I thought if we limit their possessions, especially in high school, it’s hard to come back from that.”

The Eagles were able to play keep away because of the ball skills of several players, but it was the play of junior Alayla Bivins that really stood out. She dribbled around and through the Lions defense several times, ending up with an easy layup on several occasions.

“Alayla Bivens was really good,” Benton said. “That’s one of her strengths. She can really handle the ball and she has good speed, so getting downhill is what we needed.”

Sophomore Juliette Leroux was the only South Fayette (19-9) player in double-digits, scoring 10 points.

Oakland Catholic improves to 26-2 and had three players in double-digits. Fontana had 14 points, Bivins scored 13 and freshman Kaylee DeAngelo, with four 3s, had 12 points.

The Eagles move on to the PIAA quarterfinals Saturday to play District 10 champion Cathedral Prep.

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