Stay-at-home directive suits Southmoreland girls just fine

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021 | 6:54 PM


Home-court advantage could play a much larger role than in past years when the WPIAL basketball playoffs get started Saturday. Most years, all games are played at neutral sites.

The Southmoreland girls could be a beneficiary of a new rule that will allow higher-seeded teams to host tournament games through the semifinals.

The Scotties (14-4) are seeded No. 3 in Class 4A and open the postseason at 6 p.m. Tuesday at home against No. 14 Deer Lakes (6-4).

One stipulation now is that home courts meet WPIAL hosting criteria. The Scotties weren’t quite sure what that meant at first, but they know their red-splashed gymnasium meets their requirements just fine.

“We hope to keep it going in the playoffs,” said first-year coach Amber Cernuto. “We had just found out where the streak was.”

The Scotties have been unbeatable in Alverton since 2018, winning 30 straight there including an 8-0 mark this season.

They went 12-0 at home last season on the way to a 22-0 regular season and a 25-2 overall mark. The Scotties finished as the WPIAL Class 4A runner-up.

One thing about last year’s postseason run — historic in a number of ways for the program — was the sea of fans who followed the girls around the district and state.

Southmoreland fans packed playoff games at Penn-Trafford, Peters Township, Pitt’s Petersen Events Center and Greensburg Salem.

The playoff darlings of the WPIAL were the story to follow. A public school team that had not been a factor in the playoffs since 2007 made its way to the Pete. A gold-plated storyline.

Covid-19 social distancing guidelines have limited fans at games this season. Most schools have given each player and cheerleader two or four passes to get in, and sparse crowds have been spaced apart.

Atmosphere has been lacking at many gyms. Why would that change in the playoffs?

“It’s a lot different,” Cernuto said. “It was so loud at the games, and it really pumped up the girls. So many people came out. They fed off that energy.”

Cernuto was among the crowd at those games. A former Scotties assistant, she took a year off from coaching and watched as a parent. Her daughter is sophomore point guard Olivia Cernuto.

“It might not feel the same,” Amber Cernuto said. “But we’re happy to be able to get this far (in the season). We have played a lot more games than a lot of teams. We have been fortunate.”

Southmoreland is winning by an average of 21.9 points on its home floor this season. Thursday’s game was an anomaly, however, as the Scotties staved off Belle Vernon, 43-39, to keep the streak alive.

The latest home win allowed the team to look under the hood to see what needs to be tuned up for playoff time.

“We have a lot to work on,” Olivia Cernuto said. “We need to make our layups and free throws, and we need to box out better. Also, defensively we need to move better as a team.”

Southmoreland cut down a net after it survived the visiting Leopards to claim back-to-back section titles. It was so quiet during the snipping ceremony, you could practically hear the lights buzzing above.

The Scotties had to drown out noisy gyms and focus last postseason. This year, they may need to create their own ruckus to jazz things up.

“Our bench girls were so loud last year,” Amber Cernuto said. “The whole team got into it.”

Olivia Cernuto hopes she and a few teammates who saw valuable playoff minutes in five games last year — junior forward Gracie Spadaro among them — can pass on their knowledge to newcomers.

“A lot of girls were along for the ride and experienced the playoffs,” Olivia Cernuto said. “They know what it was like. But some of them didn’t play in those games, so we have to get them ready. We need to make a (new) run for ourselves.”

Southmoreland was one of the top defensive teams in the WPIAL last year, and the Scotties have held on to the mantra as they are allowing less than 32 points a game.

Senior leadership also played a large part in the run to the WPIAL finals and state second round. This year’s roster does not include a senior, so players like Cernuto and Spadaro have to lead by example.

Junior Delaynie Morvosh is another experienced player, while sophomore Maddie Moore also saw time last year and has been an important post player.

“We know all the teams are coming for us,” Olivia Cernuto said. “We need to be ready to play our best game.”

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

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