Penn Hills girls shut down Latrobe in fourth quarter, earn section win

Thursday, December 19, 2019 | 10:23 PM

Latrobe could feel the lead slipping away, a lead that never quite seemed safe against a Penn Hills team that felt itchy going against a zone, like it was wearing a wool Christmas sweater and wanted to rip it off.

To that end, ugly had to suit the Indians aesthetically, but they gladly walked off Latrobe’s floor with a 45-37 Section 3-5A victory Thursday night.

The home-standing Wildcats fizzled late and went ice cold in the fourth quarter. This one got away.

“We love to run downhill so much, but our offense got stagnant and we didn’t run our offense well,” Penn Hills coach Robert Cash said. “We needed this win because it’s a section game. There are no cupcakes on our schedule.”

Which made the Indians (2-4, 2-0) hard to figure for Latrobe (2-4, 0-3), which played its third full game without 6-foot-1 sophomore Anna Rafferty, who has a sprained ankle.

Freshman Emma Blair picked up the slack quite well, scoring 14 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, but she fouled out with just under a minute to go in a dire fourth that saw the Wildcats go 5 minutes, 48 seconds without a field goal.

In that time, a 35-33 lead evaporated as the Indians went on a 12-0 run to eventually go ahead, 45-35.

“We turned the ball over 14 times in the second half,” Latrobe coach Mark Burkhardt said. “We wanted to take care of the ball and not let them penetrate. We did that well in the first half, but we didn’t late. We haven’t been able to put two halves together.”

Penn Hills outscored the Wildcats in the fourth, 13-4. Junior guard Jasmyn Golden scored inside, and senior forward Niya Moore made an easy layup to stretch the lead to 41-35 — the Indians’ largest since 10-4.

Free throws did the rest to get it to double digits down the stretch.

Penn Hills came in averaging 36.5 points but has tried to rely more on its defense to ignite offense.

“Every night, we try to come in and get stops,” Cash said. “We don’t believe we can win without getting stops. Offensively, we had to be patient and pass it around and move.”

Down 10-4 late in the first quarter, Latrobe found some rhythm and picked up the pace. The Wildcats went on a 12-0 run to flip the advantage their way, 16-10.

Junior guard Ava Vitula, who had 13 points, jumpstarted the run with back-to-back 3-pointers, and Blair made a pair of field goals.

Penn Hills, a WPIAL semifinalist last year, used an and-1 play from junior guard Amoni Blackwell to trim the deficit to 18-15.

Sophomore guard Bailey Watson scored on a fast break as Latrobe took a 25-20 lead into halftime.

In a see-saw third, junior Jayla Golden hit a pair of 3s, the second pulling the Indians even at 30-30, with 2:44 left.

“We tried to make them take some outside shots,” Burkhardt said. “And they made them.”

So did Latrobe — early.

Vitula made a 3-pointer from the wing and Latrobe took a 33-32 edge into the fourth.

Man-to-man defense forced Latrobe to make mistakes. Junior guard Rachel Ridilla was limited to three points and struggled to get open shots.

“We knew she could shoot. She’s a catch-and-shoot player,” Cash said. “We wanted to make her put it on the floor and I thought we did a nice job of that.”

Moore and Blackwell scored 12 points apiece and added Golden 10.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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