St. Joseph, Quigley Catholic girls have built WPIAL playoff rivalry in recent seasons

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Thursday, February 22, 2018 | 11:09 PM


Barely five minutes elapsed after St. Joseph's WPIAL playoff victory over Geibel last weekend before Chloe Kurpakus brought up the subject of the Spartans' next opponent.

“We're really excited for the Quigley game,” she said, as in No. 3 Quigley Catholic, St. Joseph's opponent in the WPIAL Class A girls basketball quarterfinals Friday.

At this point, St. Joseph doesn't just get excited for Quigley Catholic. The teams basically expect to meet each other come playoff time.

Forget the Clash of the Titans: The Sparring of the Spartans takes hold in Class A girls basketball when the calendar turns to February. The same-nicknamed schools will meet for the fifth time in the past six seasons Friday, with Spartan supremacy — and a WPIAL semifinal berth — on the line.

“In keeping with keeping people away from their section (in the playoffs), it kind of falls out that we always play Quigley,” St. Joseph coach Sally Ackerman said. “I will say this: The person that comes out of winning that game, and sometimes it's us and sometimes it's them, always gives the next round a tough game. That's what the WPIAL wants for their playoffs.”

Somewhere along the way, a game against an opponent from another section became more of a rivalry for St. Joseph than one of its section opponents. The teams also frequently meet during the regular season.

“Watching us play the last four or five years now, that game is always a good game and always comes down to which team is on that night,” Ackerman said. “It's not which team is the better all-around. I think if we play three nights in a row, it might be, ‘They win, we win, we tie.' Who knows? But it just comes down to that one day.

“Do I hate playing Quigley again? I do and I don't. I do because it's nice to see other opponents, but this also has built into a rivalry. And for us, oh man, the girls get so pumped to play them.”

Quigley Catholic held the early upper hand in recent years, eliminating St. Joseph from the playoffs each season from 2013-15. But the past two seasons, the worm began to turn: St. Joseph holds a three-game winning streak in the series, beating Quigley twice in the regular season and, most importantly, in last season's WPIAL quarterfinals to earn the first semifinal bid in school history.

“We love playing in that game,” Kurpakus said. “It's a tough game, but hopefully we'll come out strong and play a team game.”

On that note, St. Joseph is coming off one of its most complete performances of the season. In the 76-35 win over Geibel, No. 6 St. Joseph (14-9) forced 28 turnovers, dominated in rebounding and played fast — a style Ackerman emphasizes. Kurpakus scored 27 points and fellow senior Alex Jones added 22.

“The one thing we always strive for is to call as less offenses as I can,” Ackerman said. “If I call as less offenses as I can in a game, that means their defense was successful and transitioned us into baskets. That's their comfort level. As a coach, I try to make them as comfortable as I can on the court.”

Quigley (14-8) will pose a new challenge, with stars Taylor Kirschner and Hailey Drutarosky potentially causing matchup problems for St. Joseph.

“We can't go out thinking we're going to win, but as long as we go out strong, we have a chance,” Jones said.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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