South Fayette keeps repeat bid alive with dominant win over Woodland Hills

Tuesday, February 28, 2023 | 11:01 PM

All season long, the South Fayette Lions have been beating to their own drum.

The defending champs in Class 5A, the Lions have only lost twice all season. Those losses, to Class 6A Norwin and St. Thomas Aquinas from New Jersey, were by a combined four points.

After another runaway victory, this time in the Class 5A WPIAL semifinals, South Fayette knows what’s next. It’s a chance to win a third WPIAL girls basketball championship and complete a defense of a crown earned last season at the Petersen Events Center with a win over Chartiers Valley.

On Tuesday, the Lions (23-2) took a 25-2 lead after eight minutes and never looked back, taking a semifinal at the AHN Arena at Peters Township, 68-25, over the 12th-seeded Woodland Hills Wolverines (13-12).

That first quarter saw South Fayette allow just one field goal and force 12 turnovers. The Lions have gotten it done on that end all year, to the tune of the best scoring defense in the classification. Still, because of South Fayette’s ability to score and play in transition, its defense is sometimes overlooked.

“It is. The defense is a big reason for our offense,” said South Fayette coach Bryan Bennett. “We knew we had to make this a full-court game with their size. Early, we got great ball pressure and took them out of their post play.”

The Lions led 25-2 after one and induced the running clock at the break with a 46-13 lead. Ava Leroux had 12 of her 14 points in the first half, as did Maddie Webber. The Elon signee and Villanova recruit paced a Lions offense that saw nine players score in the win.

Twelve players scored in the first-round win against Plum before Webber and Leroux combined to score 50 points in a 70-49 victory in the quarterfinals against Penn-Trafford.

“It’s been that way all year,” said Bennett. “Maddie deserves all the credit in the world for how talented she is, but she’s an unselfish teammate. We’re most effective when we share the basketball, and we’ve had different kids scoring double digits multiple times.”

Rachel Black added nine, Juliette Leroux and Erica Hall eight and Ryan Oldaker seven.

Woodland Hills, which has length and size in the post, was never really able to get that going in the loss.

Hope Hawkins led the Wolverines with eight points, but Cierra Guest, who finished with four, and Carmen Vasquez couldn’t get going. Vasquez did not score.

“Turnovers against a team such as South Fayette is a recipe for disaster, especially with what they do with turnovers,” said coach Von Pitts. “Their intent is to put you away. Every steal they get, every rebound they get, every layup, every possession … this is a juggernaut of a team. They’re No. 1 … for a reason.”

Pitts said he thought his team was somewhat prepared, but that they didn’t appear to want to be there, forcing a “lethargic” start and an inability to turn the lights on against the Lions.

“They’re like piranhas in a sea of blood,” said Pitts. “They want to bite, bite and bite again. They don’t get tired of biting, and that’s the type of intensity you have to bring to a game.”

Woodland Hills will play No. 3 McKeesport in the third-place game for state playoff seeding Thursday, while the Lions advance to try to repeat.

South Fayette will take on No. 2 Oakland Catholic at 5 p.m. Saturday at the Pete.

“As this gets deeper, I don’t think we’re going to be able to do that, regardless of who we play,” said Bennett. “Oakland (Catholic) is a good defensive team, so we’ll have to prepare well on the offensive end. You can bring defense every night.”

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