Shady Side Academy girls top South Park, earn long-awaited trip to WPIAL finals

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 | 1:30 AM

Shady Side Academy’s girls basketball team punched its first ticket to a WPIAL championship game.

Coach Amy Szlachetka fought back tears at midcourt Wednesday night after a 38-35 win over South Park that came down to a last-second shot. For her, it was a reminder of how close her teams have come to reaching the title game.

“When I coached here from 2002 to 2010 we had a really strong program, and this was as far as we ever got, Szlachetka said. “It’s the first time in the finals for this program and these seniors, and it’s just so, so emotional. They’re so special. My biggest fear in this game is I didn’t want to let them down, because they work so hard.”

No. 3 Shady Side Academy (19-3) will play top-seeded Neshannock (22-2) in the WPIAL Class 3A finals at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Petersen Events Center.

But, South Park nearly spoiled Shady Side Academy’s championship game hopes.

After back-to-back timeouts by both teams with five seconds left, Danielle DeProspo’s 3-point shot for South Park rattled in and out into the arms of Shady Side Academy’s Catherine Jewart at the buzzer.

“I wish we could have made a few more free throws at the end, so that it wouldn’t have been so wild,” Szlachetka said. “But I guess it just makes this moment that much more special to win that way.”

The No. 2-seeded Eagles (17-7) battled back into the game after trailing 9-4 in the first quarter.

Shady Side Academy double-teamed South Park center Maura Huwalt every time she touched the ball. The perimeter defense by Jewart and Emmie Lau, who had a noticeable size advantage over South Park’s guards, also quickly shut down open 3-point looks.

“They’re bigger, but we got some looks and were right there,” South Park coach Marty Matvey said. “These games are the worst, because you can dissect it into any one possession and truly torture yourself. So, their size was a factor, but we were still right there with them.”

Cassidy Zandier had 12 points and Huwalt scored 10 for South Park, but the early hole was too deep for a complete comeback.

“The way we fought back into it starts with the senior leadership we have with Maura, Cassidy and Char (Blackburn),” Matvey said. “Those kids gave us everything they had, because they want to play as many games as possible. The ladies behind them wanted to do the same for them. We knew if we clawed back one possession at a time, we’d have a chance.”

Ariana Goitz had 12 points and Nyla Rozier scored 11 to lead the Indians.

Goitz’s brother, Alex Goitz, helped Pine-Richland secure its first WPIAL title in 2016, a feat she has since dreamed of accomplishing.

“I’m just so excited, because I feel like this has just been my dream forever,” Goitz said. “I can’t believe it yet. I watched my brother win the WPIAL finals, and all I want to do is follow in his footsteps.”

The road also hasn’t ended for South Park, which qualified for the PIAA playoffs.

“Maura has been incredible battling through injuries, and Cassidy and Char have helped carry us through that, and they know they’re not done,” Matvey said. “It’s gonna take a couple days to get over this, but we’re going to be excited to get right back after it.”

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