Southmoreland girls continue to rely on trademark defense to advance in WPIAL playoffs

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Monday, February 28, 2022 | 7:29 PM


Teams that have played against Southmoreland the last several seasons rarely have hit their scoring averages.

If they did, it was probably because they were equally as talented or better, they shot the lights out or they caught the Scotties on an off night.

“We’re disciplined on defense,” said junior point guard Olivia Cernuto, who has a lot to do with the Scotties’ safeguarding prowess. “It’s our main focus. It transitions into offense.”

The Scotties’ points-allowed averages have been like winter temperatures: usually somewhere in the 30s.

Defense has become their trademark.

In 2018-19, they allowed 36.8 points per game. In 2019-20, it was 33.9. Last year, the number was 33.4.

And this season, it’s 34.1 as the No 2 Scotties (18-3) get set to take on No. 3 Knoch (20-2) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals at Gateway’s Furrie Sports Complex in Monroeville.

“We like to be active on that end of the floor, aggressive and use our length,” Scotties coach Amber Cernuto said. “We’re not scoring a lot of points, so we rely on our defense. We try to stress keeping teams to 30-35 points.”

Brian Pritts coached the Scotties for 19 years and instilled the defensive mindset before passing the torch to Cernuto last year.

Southmoreland has held eight teams under 30 points, including Highlands in the quarterfinals. The Scotties came back from a 15-day layoff to beat the Golden Rams, 50-24, and get back to the semifinals for the third straight year.

They are a win away from their second trip to Pitt’s Petersen Events Center in three years after a runner-up finish two years ago.

Their next opponent knows something about defense. Knoch is certainly no slouch on that end of the floor.

The Lady Knights allow just 30.5 points, the lowest average in Class 4A.

“They have two 5-10, 5-11 girls, so they’re long, too,” Amber Cernuto said. “They do a lot of the same things we do. It’s a good matchup.”

The Scotties hope to stand more confidently behind their gameplans in this installment of the final four. When Southmoreland played Quaker Valley last year in the semis, the Quakers started fast and built a double-digit lead before the Scotties rallied late but ran out of time.

“We started out in a zone that game when we should have been in man,” Amber Cernuto said. “There were some things that I did that game that could have been different. I learned a lot from that game, too.”

That being said, the Scotties plan to guard man-to-man — girl-to-girl — as they try to move forward in the bracket.

Zone is unusual to see from this team, but it has been known to drop into a 1-3-1 set.

“We need to come our stronger and focus more on what we do than what they do,” Olivia Cernuto said.

Her mom and coach agrees wholeheartedly.

“Improve on us rather than worrying about them,” she said.

Senior forward Gracie Spadaro said the team takes pride in its defense.

Teams that wade into the paint have to work around the 5-11 Spadaro and junior 6-footers Maddie Moore and Delaynie Morvosh.

“Defense travels,” said Spadaro, an IUP commit. “Mismatches can make it hard on other teams. Not a lot of teams have three 5-11s in the starting lineup. We guard each other in practice, and that helps us to get ready for games.”

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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