Southmoreland leans on big-game experience as it readies for Quaker Valley

Monday, March 8, 2021 | 4:10 PM

The WPIAL girls basketball semifinals can be daunting for newcomers.

The pressure in the “final four” is different, heavier, as a trip to the championship lies in the balance. And this year, with no follow-the-winner format for PIAA playoff qualification, a loss means it’s time to turn in uniforms.

But Southmoreland feels a sense of calmness as it gets set for a second straight trip to the semis. Sure, there will be nerves, and butterflies will churn. But big-game intensity is not a new concept for several players who went through it a year ago.

“We have to ensure everyone stays relaxed, and not to play nervous — not to let the nerves take over,” Scotties junior forward Gracie Spadaro said. “We have to tell (the younger players) to trust in themselves and their teammates because we have been practicing hard and that we are here for a reason.”

Third-seeded Southmoreland (16-4) visits No. 2 Quaker Valley (14-4) at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The winner moves on to meet either No. 4 Knoch (10-1) or No. 1 Beaver Area (18-0) at 5 p.m. Friday in the WPIAL championship at Peters Township.

The Scotties made a historic run to the WPIAL title game last season following an undefeated regular season. In the semifinals, they came out firing and never looked back in a 64-51 win over Central Valley. They were the No. 2 seed then, while Central Valley was the 3.

Southmoreland lost to North Catholic in the final, then won a PIAA playoff game in its first try.

“We have to come out fast and try to get ahead early,” Spadaro said.

Spadaro, sophomore point guard Olivia Cernuto, junior Delaynie Morvosh and sophomore Maddie Moore all saw time in last year’s postseason run, which came with noise — lots of noise.

Cernuto not only directed the offense, but scored 23 in the semifinal win at rowdy Peters Township. That followed a spirited quarterfinal at Penn-Trafford.

“Our returning players have been able to share their experiences … Unfortunately, this season has been quite different,” Southmoreland first-year coach Amber Cernuto said. “The one thing they miss the most is the crowds. They were excited to have somewhat of a crowd Friday.”

Coach Cernuto said the team has revisited highlight moments from past games to reassure the girls they can play at a high level.

“We like them to use the skills they have learned through the years and play,” she said. “We often go back to those moments in a game that were successful, in practices, so everyone can learn and build on those skills.”

Quaker Valley could be the toughest challenge the Scotties have faced all year. The Quakers are tall and talented. They feature two Division I players in Bailey Garbee (American) and Corrine Washington (Boston).

“Quaker Valley is long like us,” Amber Cernuto said. “We haven’t seen too many teams that match our length, except Latrobe. After watching film, they do a lot of the same things offensively and defensively as well. It should be a good matchup.”

Spadaro hearkened back to the steady nerves theme.

“We have to be able to handle the ball and handle their pressure up top,” she said. “Be patient and move the ball and make good decisions. Defensively, we have to keep the girls in front of us and contain their driving.”

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

Tags: ,

More Basketball

After going winless, Ligonier Valley girls basketball showing improvement as season approaches
Knoch boys basketball excited about improved depth alongside top scorer Ryan Lang
Promising Kiski Area girls team coming together
New Kiski Area boys coach has visions of turnaround
Young Latrobe boys basketball roster looks to overachieve again

click me