Shady Side Academy pulls away from Beaver Falls to earn trip to WPIAL finals

Saturday, February 24, 2024 | 6:28 PM

Beaver Falls senior Avina Norman has been a force in the postseason for the Tigers, averaging 20.5 points per game in leading the team in scoring in both first-round and quarterfinal victories.

However, her play Saturday went from sweet to sour thanks to the defense of Shady Side Academy sophomore Cassie Sauer.

Sauer limited Norman to only four points as No. 2 Shady Side Academy defeated No. 3 Beaver Falls, 41-26, in a Class 3A girls basketball semifinal at Mt. Lebanon.

“I want to give Cassie Sauer a lot of credit,” Shady Side Academy coach Jonna Burke said. “She is willing to bang around for 32 minutes and not a lot of teams have somebody her size (6-foot-2) on their roster. I think she was a neutralizing factor on (Norman).

“We were more worried about (Cali Ledgdin and Taylor Pullen) lighting it up on us and we thought Cassie could battle things inside and thankfully, she was able to stay out of foul trouble. If she gets in foul trouble, it could have easily gone a different way.”

Defense was the name of the game throughout the first half with only seven combined points scored in the first quarter and 14 more in the second quarter as Shady Side Academy led 5-2 after on and 14-7 at the half.

“You could call it either a defensive struggle or an offensive struggle,” Burke said about both teams in the first half.

Thanks to the play of the sophomore Pullen, Beaver Falls scored nine of the first 11 points in the third quarter to tie the game at 16-16.

With the scored tied 18-18, the Tigers had a chance to take their first lead, but when they missed that opportunity, Shady Side Academy made them pay.

The Bulldogs scored seven unanswered points and finished the quarter scoring nine of the last 11 points to lead 27-21 after three.

The lack of depth caught up to the Tigers in the fourth quarter as they seemed to run out of steam. SSA outscored BF in the final quarter 14-5 to win going away.

In a game with little scoring, sophomore Maggie Spell led the Bulldogs with 17 points.

“Maggie does not shy away from big moments; she kind of thrives in them as she did (Saturday),” Burke said. “I think she was kind of upset with herself against OLSH because she didn’t have a bucket. She had nine points, all at the foul line. When she hit that first 3, I thought that was big for her and she really came though big.”

Sauer had 11 points for SSA and another outstanding sophomore, Karis Thomas, had 11 points and did a great job on both ends of the floor.

“Karis is really your ideal point guard because she looks for other guys, she’s a sneaky good defender, she sets other up, she can score herself,” Burke said. “I think sometimes she doesn’t get all the credit she deserves because she is quiet about what she does.”

Pullen led all scorers with 18 of the 26 points scored by Beaver Falls.

The Tigers fall to 16-7 and will play Neshannock (17-8) in the girls Class 3A third-place consolation game Tuesday. The teams split their two regular season meetings.

Shady Side Academy has won 17 games in a row and improves to 23-2. The Bulldogs are one win away from their first WPIAL championship and will battle top seed and defending champion Avonworth in the 3A title game Friday at the Petersen Events Center at 3 p.m.

“I just want them to enjoy it and have a good time,” Burke said of the finals. “There will be no pressure. We took a step further then we did last year and (Avonworth) will be the heavy favorite. I’ll let them know some things I experienced when I was there.”

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