Sewickley Academy girls hitting stride midway through season

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Sunday, February 7, 2021 | 11:16 AM


Despite a few losses early on this season, the Sewickley Academy girls basketball team is starting to find a rhythm.

The Panthers won six of their first nine games, and the three losses came against top-tier teams. In their second game of the season, the Panthers fell to WPIAL Class 4A No. 5 Blackhawk. They also lost to WPIAL Class 2A No. 3 Neshannock and No. 4 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the two teams above them in Section 1-2A play.

Sewickley Academy lost its two section games by a combined 14 points, and Panthers coach Mark Gaither believes those losses will help his team down the road.

“One thing about our group is that we’ve really responded well as the season has gone on, so I think those games against good teams, where we were in the games, I think they were learning experiences that we can grow from,” Gaither said. “Two of those teams are in our section, so we’re excited to play them again. Our section is tough, and then we put together a tough nonsection schedule, which will help us in the playoffs as well.”

The Panthers haven’t lost two games in a row all season and have responded with two-game winning streaks after a loss twice this season. After losing to Neshannock, the Panthers delivered two key wins over Aliquippa (54-36) and WPIAL Class 3A No. 5 Avonworth (36-23).

Sewickley Academy’s win over Avonworth was the Antelopes’ first loss of the season, and the Panthers limited them to half of their normal scoring output. Their defensive effort is one thing that Gaither said has allowed his team to thrive this season.

They’ve only allowed 36.8 points per game, and Blackhawk is the only team that has scored 50 or more points on the Panthers.

“We hang our hat on defense, and the girls have bought into it the last two years,” Gaither said. “We really get after it with team defense. Defense makes our offense go, and that’s what we’re preaching every day. The girls are bringing it at that end.”

The Panthers aren’t just able to limit teams on the defensive end either. With five seniors and every player returning from last season’s team, Gaither has been able to rely on a different scorer almost every game this season.

Six players have led the Panthers in scoring in their nine games, which speaks to the type of depth that Sewickley Academy has.

One night it will be Bre Warner, who scored 22 in the loss to OLSH and 17 in the 20-point win over South Side. Other nights it could be Kamryn Lightcap, Rinnie Jardini, Hailey Drutarosky or Desirae Nance.

“We’ve got a lot of options offensively, which is a nice luxury to have,” Gaither said. “We are really balanced as a team, and we have a nice mix of girls with different talents that complement each other really well. We have multiple girls that can lead us any given night.”

Although they are starting to find a rhythm partway through the season, the Panthers still had to come together at the beginning of the year and get used to playing with each other. They returned all of their players from last season, but Drutarosky transferred in after Quigley Catholic closed, and she’s played a big role for the Panthers as well.

“Even though we have a lot of experience coming back, we did have a new piece in Hailey with our group,” Gaither said. “So as fantastic as a player as she is, it’s still going to take time to get used to new teammates and feeling out each other’s tendencies and strengths. So our cohesiveness is really starting to peak.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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