South Park girls overcome obstacles, beat Seton LaSalle for section crown

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Thursday, February 6, 2020 | 10:40 PM


The No. 5 South Park Eagles girls basketball team entered the 2019-20 season as the defending Section 2-3A champions but not without hurdles.

For starters, they graduated a handful of impactful seniors, including Maura Huwalt, Cassidy Zandier and Charlyn Blackburn.

Then head coach Marty Matvey moved on to become the coach of the Fox Chapel girls.

Insert Garrett Del Re, who was hired in August to take over the program, and couple that with only two seniors being on the roster. On top of those things, the basketball team got a late start due to the success of the Eagles’ girls soccer team.

The big-game experience of last year on the hardwood and in soccer paid off Thursday night, though, as Del Re’s team completed its defense of its section crown, defeating No. 4 Seton LaSalle, 46-40 to win the title again.

It wasn’t without adversity during the game either.

South Park (14-7, 12-2) trailed 7-0 to start the game, then allowed a 17-9 third quarter that started 7-0 and 17-5 for the homestanding Rebels (14-7, 11-3). A 13-5 fourth quarter for the Eagles sealed the deal.

“We went up in the first half in the first game against them too, so this game was very similar,” said Del Re. “But I told the girls before the game, the difference for us is they’ve never stopped progressing and working hard, and we were able to move past the bad third quarter. The big-game experience these girls have helps us tremendously and it did down the stretch.”

After the Rebels scored the first seven points of the third quarter, Del Re used a timeout and said he just told the girls to settle down.

“We were rushing. We were forcing shots and throwing passes that weren’t going to do anything for us,” said Del Re. “That was the difference tonight. We were able to settle down.”

Part of the 13-5 fourth quarter was holding Seton LaSalle without a field goal. All five of the points for the Rebels came from the free-throw line, three from senior Sarah Merlina and two from senior Vanessa Hudson, who scored a team high and matched the game high with 14 points, despite spraining her ankle in the first quarter.

Second-year head coach Jordan Giles said Hudson poured her heart out and left everything on the floor in the game and that her team just struggled to make their looks in the fourth.

“It was a tough one. It went back and forth and over again and we knew it would come down to the wire. We didn’t finish what we needed to finish,” said Giles. “We usually start slow and pick it up, so the starts in the two halves were a little surprising. We were getting our shots. We just didn’t make them.”

Giles continued: “Vanessa played her heart out. She didn’t say a word after we taped her ankle up, and that’s the part that kills me coaching. You want so bad for them to win it when they do those things.”

Six Rebels scored in the game, with Hudson’s 14 being the only double-digit output.

For South Park, sophomore Nora Ozimek led the way with 14 points, while seniors Danielle DeProspo and Taylor Glowa combined for 22 points with 12 and 10, respectively. Glowa made a huge three in the middle stages of the fourth quarter to help push the Eagles ahead, while DeProspo was 3 for 4 down the stretch at the free-throw line.

The biggest play of the game may have come when it was a one-possession contest in the waning minutes. Maddie Graham, a freshman, pickpocketed a Rebel in the low post on help defense, giving possession back to the Eagles. They increased their lead on the ensuing trip down the floor.

The section title is the second in a row for the Eagles. The last time they won consecutive crowns was in a three-year stretch from 2011-13.

Considering all of the obstacles his team has faced, Del Re was elated postgame.

“For me, this means the world. I know they worked their butts off last year and they did again this year,” said Del Re. “For me to come in and day one, for them to hit the ground running with a new coach … they’re such a coachable group of kids and they deserve this back-to-back section champions accomplishment no doubt.”

South Park will be the first team from Section 2-3A into the Class 3A postseason while Seton LaSalle will settle for second.

The Rebels’ regular season is over, while South Park plays at Southmoreland on Monday in nonconference action to close the slate.

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