South Park advances by beating Mt. Pleasant in WPIAL opener

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Saturday, February 17, 2024 | 5:33 PM


South Park knew who to turn to when it needed a jolt. When it came time to flip a WPIAL girls basketball playoff game in its favor.

Junior point guard Brooke Paylo was the fifth-seeded Eagles’ rail to hold onto in a 37-21 first-round victory over No. 12 Mt. Pleasant on Saturday afternoon on their home floor.

After a less-than-impressive first half, South Park (16-6) finally found its rhythm behind Paylo and a brick wall of a defense that held Mt. Pleasant (14-8) without a field goal for the final 13 minutes.

The impressive stand helped to put the Eagles into the Class 3A quarterfinals where they will play No. 4 Neshannock (16-7) on Wednesday.

“Brooke made us go,” Eagles second-year coach Matt Loftis said. “We got her some spacing, and some good things happened for us. She is a pass-first point guard, but she made a big basket when we needed it and she hit a big 3 (-pointer).”

Paylo drove in for a layup to open the second half, then touched off a pass to sophomore forward Hayley Bennett to give the Eagles a 10-point lead, at 28-18, early in the third.

The latter hoop capped a 12-0 run.

“Coach Loftis told us at halftime to keep pushing,” Paylo said. “We had a wake-up call in the first half, and we saw it wasn’t going to be easy. At halftime, we woke up.”

South Park didn’t have a player in double figures but played team basketball down the stretch to pull ahead to stay.

Junior Addison Kerr led with eight points, and Paylo, junior Ella Clifford and Bennett each scored seven.

South Park beat Mt. Pleasant earlier in the season 53-39.

“We made some costly mistakes,” Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi said. “And in a game that close, things can turn pretty fast. We didn’t shoot it well, but we had some looks. They forced us to play their way.”

Sophomore Morgan Gesinski led all scorers with 11 points for Mt. Pleasant. She made three 3-pointers.

The rest of the team, though, totaled just 10 points.

The Lady Vikings were outscored 13-3 in the fourth quarter and 23-8 in the second half as the Eagles pressured the backcourt and kept 5-11 sophomore Grace Arrigo from being a factor.

The Lady Vikings’ last field goal came early in the third on a 3-pointer by Gesinski.

“We weren’t getting rebounds in the first half, so we weren’t getting any transition,” Loftis said. “In the second half, we started to get some stops and rebounds, and that led to easy baskets.”

The Eagles scored the last six points of the game, including a 3 by Clifford.

Freshman Nika Contakos also hit a 3 in the final quarter.

Mt. Pleasant’s matchup zone took some getting used to for the Eagles, who led 14-13 after the first quarter and 24-18 at halftime.

Mt. Pleasant’s last lead was 18-17 on another Gesinski 3.

A free throw by Clifford tied it, then Kerr nailed a 3 to give the Eagles the lead for good.

Both teams should be in good shape next season because they only lose two seniors apiece.

“Like I said at the beginning of the year, who knows how this season is going to go?” Giacobbi said. “This was a good step for our program.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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