Southmoreland girls basketball spearheads Scotties’ sports turnaround

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Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 8:18 PM


One observer of Southmoreland athletics put it bluntly.

For years, the Scotties carried a demeaning moniker with them whenever they showed up on opponents’ schedules.

“Lovable losers.”

Ouch.

The mild-mannered Scotties — even their actual nickname seems to fit, with a wagging tail — would go through the motions, the observer said, almost gracefully stepping out of the way to let more proven programs have their shot at WPIAL glory.

But look at how times have changed.

Settling on mediocrity is no longer acceptable in Alverton, where the Scotties are being taken more seriously than ever before — in several sports.

You might say the undefeated girls basketball team has some dog in it. The girls are at the forefront of the resurgence.

The Scotties (23-0) have reached the WPIAL semifinals for the first time and sit one win away from a trip to Petersen Events Center to play for a Class 4A championship.

If the second-seeded Scotties can get around No. 3 Central Valley (18-6) on Monday night at Peters Township, another turnaround story will continue.

The winner will play either No. 1 North Catholic (22-1) or No. 4 Blackhawk (20-3) at 7 p.m. Friday night on Pitt’s campus.

“When you step on the field, the court or mat, your goal should be to win, not matter who you’re playing,” Scotties athletic director Charlie Swink said. “That’s what it was like we’re I came from (Connellsville). I think we got away from that mentality here. But you’re seeing it come back. We have so many good coaches who care about the kids and put in the time to get the teams prepared.”

Maybe it all began in 2016, when Jake Beistel dominated opponents on the wrestling mat en route to a 36-0 record and a PIAA championship.

Or maybe the belief the Scotties belonged came two years later when Southmoreland’s softball team stunned — OK, dismantled — top-seeded South Park in the WPIAL title game to win the first girls title in any sport in school history since the cross country team won in 1996 and ‘97.

“I think throughout the years, the athletes we get into the high school have more and more competitive stamina,” said senior Charity Henderson, a guard on the basketball team who was a sophomore on the title-winning softball team. “The bond the coaches make with the athletes at our school is amazing.”

The football team grabbed the spotlight last fall when it finally broke through and made the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 1979. Forty years of futility were erased.

“Sports are supposed to be fun,” Swink said. “But it’s fun to win, too. If you play your hardest and lose, you can keep your head up because there is no shame in that.”

Now, firetruck and police sirens could sound for the girls basketball team, which also qualified for the PIAA playoffs for the first time.

“We worked so hard over the summer, in the spring and the fall,” senior guard Erika Sherbondy said. “We all put in the work. I think (the school’s success) started with the softball team. We all saw what they could do and that it was possible. Everyone supports each other here.”

Southmoreland allowed the most points it had all season in Thursday’s quarterfinal against Freeport. Its canvas-the-court defense was giving up just 29.9 points, and only Belle Vernon had reached 50 against the Scotties.

Freeport gave them everything it had, nearly pulling the upset, but the Scotties kept pushing back in an intense atmosphere to pull out a 54-52 win.

“We need to get our defense back to where it was,” said senior forward Sarah Pisula, who did her best Troy Polamalu impression late in Thursday’s win, leaping to intercept a pass near midcourt and making two vital free throws in the closing seconds to advance the Scotties. “But that was a great win. Freeport was a really aggressive team. They really kept attacking us.”

Sherbondy gave the Scotties a spark with her 3-point shooting, and sophomore forward Gracie Spadaro scored 17 points to pace the Scotties to a program-record 23rd win.

“We grinded one out,” Scotties coach Brian Pritts said. “It was a back-and-forth game, but our girls didn’t lose their focus or get down on themselves. They really handled the pressure well.”

Pritts thinks the competition Freeport gave his team only will help against Central Valley, which was the WPIAL runner-up last season to North Catholic.

Freeport will be watching.

“I’m happy for Brian,” Freeport coach Fred Soilis said. “He does such a great job with that program. They could be playing at the Pete. We’re rooting for them to get there and win it all.”

A Southmoreland alum, Pritts used to be the football coach and endured tough seasons. He coached the girls basketball team from 1998-2009 and returned in 2012 for a second stint. Having been around the program for 18 years, he has seen the struggles and now, the successes.

“A lot of kids are really close to each other,” Pritts said. “They cheer for one another in different sports. They see one team having success and they say, ‘We want to do that, too.’ There is so much support in the community. The school is on board with everything. It’s amazing.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be from this school district — Southmoreland, Scottdale, Alverton.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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