St. Joseph’s girls storm to dominant first-round victory over Geibel

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Monday, February 20, 2023 | 9:27 PM


Junior Julie Spinelli hit a 3-pointer for St. Joseph just 14 seconds into Monday’s WPIAL Class A first-round girls basketball game with Geibel Catholic at St. Joseph’s Walter Dlubak Athletic Center.

It was the start of a dominant performance by the fifth-seeded Spartans who rolled to a 64-26 victory over the Lady Gators.

“This is a good group that has been together for a while,” St. Joseph interim coach Brian Swierczewski said. “We don’t have to create anything new as far as playoff experience. They had that last year with a nice run they want to improve on. The girls were prepared and really ready to play this game.”

St. Joseph improved to 19-4 overall and will move into the quarterfinals Thursday at No. 4 Monessen at 7 p.m.

“We will get into the practice and prepare our defense, offense, everything for the game,” said sophomore guard Gia Richter, one of three players to score in double figures for the Spartans. “I am glad we came out and played well and won. Now we move to the next round. This is fun.”

Swierczewski said it will be a big challenge Thursday at Monessen but one for which his players are excited.

“We hadn’t looked at Monessen at all as we had committed to focusing on one game at a time,” Swierczewski said. “I told the girls in the huddle at the end of the game that we have a lot of work to do to prepare for Thursday.”

Geibel, with just two seniors, concluded its season at 11-12 overall. Despite Monday’s loss, coach Sara Larkin was pleased with the way her team turned around its fortunes after winning just four total games over the previous four seasons.

“I am proud of these kids and the way they fought all year,” she said. “We knew this game was going to be a big challenge and a tough matchup. We don’t have any height at all, and (St. Joseph) has height throughout its lineup. But the girls fought every minute of that game and did what they could.”

Spinelli led all scorers with 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists.

St. Joseph’s clear height advantage helped them outrebound the Gators by a wide margin. Junior 6-foot-2 center Anna Kreinbrook scored 14 points and added 10 rebounds and five blocks.

She surpassed the 100-block mark for the season. She now has 102.

Richter scored 13 for St. Joseph, and junior Emma Swierczewski ended the game with nine.

While the Spartans were scoring and building their lead, Geibel freshman Emma Larkin was finding some tough early sledding. The first-year standout, who averaged 23.1 points a game in the regular season, missed her first eight shots.

She had three points at halftime, all from the free-throw line. Her first points from the field came on a steal and layup 12 seconds into the third quarter.

Larkin scored eight of her team-best 17 in the third and added six points in the fourth. She finished 5 of 17 from the field.

“Emma has a terrific high school career ahead of her, but we wanted to cut down on her driving,” coach Swierczewski said. “Anna kind of hung out in the middle, and if Emma beat our guard, Anna was there as backup for help with the hope she would force Emma to pass the ball or take awkward shots. We did a good job of that early. She wasn’t getting a clean, easy shot, but she did do a nice job of distributing when she couldn’t get there.”

“I could tell that (Emma) was feeling a little bit of pressure and was frustrated early on,” coach Larkin said. “I tried to get her to calm down a little bit. It was hard. She had never had that kind of (playoff) experience before, and they keyed on her right from the get-go, which we expected. But she settled in there in the second half and started to pull it together for us.”

St. Joseph led 39-8 at halftime, and the 31-point margin put the mercy rule running clock into effect for the entire second half.

The teams played even in the third quarter. The Spartans led 52-18 early in the fourth on a rebound and layup from Kreinbrook.

Coach Swierczewski then started to clear his bench for game action over the final seven minutes.

Spartans junior forward Maggie Bernat collected nine rebounds, and junior guard/forward Amelia Wygonik came off the bench to grab seven boards.

Freshman Kasey Cienik and junior Kalyda O’Connor had a field goal each for the Spartans in the fourth.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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