Southmoreland makes PIAA girls basketball playoffs debut to remember

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Saturday, March 7, 2020 | 7:59 PM


Having never been to the PIAA girls basketball playoffs, Southmoreland wasn’t quite sure what was in store Saturday afternoon in its state tournament debut.

Would there be nerves playing in front of another large crowd? Of course.

Was the thought of a potential trip-up lurking in the shadows? Maybe a little bit.

Treating the opener like just another game was much easier said than done.

But none of that seemed to matter to the WPIAL runner-up Scotties, who looked the part and brushed aside District 6 runner-up Huntingdon, 57-29, in a Class 4A first-round game at Greensburg Salem.

And just like that, another playoff run has begun.

“We didn’t want to lose two in a row to end the season,” coach Brian Pritts said. “That was a big thing. I am really proud of our effort. We wanted to show we belong, and I thought we did that. The girls are excited to keep playing.”

The Scotties (25-1), who never had played 26 games in a season, took a little more than a quarter to settle into the environment and their opponent. Once they dictated the game’s pace, locked in on defense and established their size, Huntingdon (13-12) had nowhere to run.

Using an unabashed press to pick the Bearcats’ pockets, something they had not done of late, the Scotties returned to the form to which fans had grown accustomed — the form they lost touch with in the WPIAL championship loss to four-time defending champ North Catholic.

A Southmoreland-heavy crowd had plenty to cheer about. The Scotties were happy to hold an opponent under 30 points again, the 11th time it has happened this season.

“We wanted to get back to how we play,” Scotties senior Sarah Pisula said. “We wanted to get back to playing tough defense. We did that and created a lot of turnovers.”

Now, the pressure gets ratcheted up more as the Scotties prepare to face District 3 champion and perennial power Lancaster Catholic (26-3) on Wednesday in the second round (time, site to be determined).

Lancaster Catholic took care of Indiana, 73-50, in a first-round game Saturday.

After taking an 11-7 lead after the opening quarter, Southmoreland kicked up the pressure. That led to a 14-0 run and put the Scotties firmly in front. Huntingdon had no answer.

“I liked our defensive energy,” Pritts said.

Sophomore Gracie Spadaro made consecutive baskets, the second off a steal, Pisula finished a three-point play and senior Charity Henderson buried a 3-pointer for a 25-7 lead.

Henderson had seven points in the second quarter, and freshman Olivia Cernuto made 5 of 6 free throws for 10 first-half points, and it was 33-11 at the half.

Southmoreland outscored the Bearcats, 22-4, in the second quarter.

The lead reached 30 by the end of the third, and the Scotties flirted with the 40-point mercy rule in the fourth before backups took the floor.

“We did a nice job spreading the floor, attacking and moving on angles,” Pritts said. “We forced many turnovers that way. Olivia did a great job running the show.”

Pritts kept the press on into the second half, a move he said was more of a benefit to the Scotties and less of a slight to Huntingdon.

It wasn’t about running up the score. It was about keeping the Scotties on point with the next round ahead.

“I wanted our girls to stay in the moment,” Pritts said. “I didn’t want them to get complacent.”

Cernuto finished with a game-high 16 points. Pisula added 13, and Spadaro had 10.

Henderson chipped in nine and bounced back quickly after colliding with a Huntingdon player early, falling backwards and hitting her head on the floor.

Pisula added seven rebounds and five steals, and Cernuto had five steals and four assists.

For Huntingdon, senior Kait McElroy and sophomore Lexi Troup scored 10 apiece.

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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