Rebounding, scoring struggles prove costly for Thomas Jefferson girls in WPIAL final

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Friday, March 8, 2019 | 7:33 PM


The bubble finally burst for the surging Thomas Jefferson girls basketball team.

The Jaguars lost to Section 1 rival Chartiers Valley, 64-48, in the WPIAL Class 5A championship game March 2 at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Thomas Jefferson (19-7) went into the final confidently riding an eight-game winning streak, and had waltzed past Plum, Gateway and Oakland Catholic in spectacular fashion in the first three rounds.

But the Jaguars fell to the undefeated and top-seeded Colts for a third time this season.

“Honestly, we didn’t do as good of a job on the boards as we wanted to,” TJ coach Lisa Fairman said. “When you give very strong offensive teams two or three opportunities, it’s going to come back and bite you and it did. We never gave up and we never lost hope, but one of the things we like to do is own the boards and get out and run. I don’t think we got that started enough.”

TJ was scheduled to play Trinity (12-12) Saturday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, after deadline for this edition. The Hillers, who lost twice to TJ in section play, landed the WPIAL’s fifth-place berth in 5A.

The sixth-seeded Jaguars, with 62.1 ppg and 48.3 ppg scoring averages, managed just 15 first-half points, then only nine more in the third quarter against CV. A pair of 15-0 runs by the Colts — one per half — pretty much wrote the story in this game for the TJ girls, who weren’t able to solve CV’s staunch defensive scheme.

“It was really tough. They’re a good team,” said Fairman, who is in her first season at her alma mater after coaching at Belle Vernon for seven years. “They were hitting their shots, and some of their shots were contested. They were very patient on offense; that kind of wears you down. We had some opportunities and couldn’t finish.”

Chartiers Valley (25-0) ranks with the best teams in the WPIAL. The Colts lead Class 5A with 63.3 ppg and 35.9 ppg averages.

“To be undefeated and win a WPIAL championship with these girls is pretty special,” said Tim McConnell, CV’s first-year coach. “It’s not an easy thing to do to go 25-0 and not lose one game. It shows the character of these girls of how they came in ready night-in and night-out.”

The Jaguars stormed past the likes of No. 11 Plum, 79-36, No. 3 and defending WPIAL champion Gateway, 79-52, and No. 2 Oakland Catholic, 68-55, in the playoffs’ first three rounds.

TJ advanced to the WPIAL finals for the first time since 1980 when the Jaguars lost 53-39 to Shaler in the Class AAA title contest.

Senior guard Jenna Clark finished with a game-high 19 points for TJ, including three triples, against the Colts. Teammate Alyssa DeAngelo, a junior guard, added 17.

Clark (27.7 ppg), wearing bright pink shoes she bought right after Valentine’s Day for the playoffs, and DeAngelo (21.7 ppg) averaged close to 50 points between them in the four WPIAL contests.

“I’m so proud of my team no matter what the outcome was today,” said Clark, a Yale recruit. “We knew we did everything we could’ve done going into the game. We prepared well, and we knew what we were getting into. I think it was just tough today.

“Chartiers Valley is a tough team, so there’s nothing to hang your head about. We’ve worked hard, and to see how far we’ve come from the beginning of the season until now is incredible.”

DeAngelo poured in 15 points in the second half in the title game, including 11 points and three treys in the fourth quarter.

“Offensively, we were really just trying to stay consistent, the way we had been the past few games,” DeAngelo said, “and keeping the whole team involved.”

Four players reached double figures for the Colts, who won their second WPIAL title in three years but first under McConnell, who reeled in six titles as the CV boys coach.

Megan McConnell, a junior guard and the coach’s daughter, and freshman guard Aislin Malcolm racked up 18 points apiece.

Division I senior recruits Gabby Legister (Kennesaw State), a 6-foot-2 center, clicked for 14, and guard Mackenzie Wagner (Loyola, Md.) added 10 for CV.

Clark and DeAngelo were joined in TJ’s starting lineup at The Pete by senior guard Shaylor Williams, and junior forwards Dalaney Ranallo, the team’s leading rebounder, and Molly Wagner.

“We knew that rebounding was key to preventing CV from getting second-chance shots,” Ranallo said.

Wagner said she liked TJ’s chances against the Colts. The Jaguars lost to CV by three points in a late-season thriller at TJ.

“Char Valley is a team of strong shooters, and a team that has very good ball movement,” Wagner said. “They are a high-intensity team with great all-around talent, but of all the teams we have played, I feel like we’re pretty evenly matched with them.”

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