Unbeaten Southmoreland girls seeking fast start in quest to upset No. 1 North Catholic

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020 | 5:50 PM


Senior forward Sarah Pisula could have typed a text message and sent it in the time she had to line up a pair of 3-pointers early in Monday night’s playoff game.

Instead, she dialed it up from long distance.

Freshman teammate Olivia Cernuto, a fast-rising point guard, followed her lead.

Both hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening quarter, and second-seeded Southmoreland (24-0) raced to a double-digit lead on the way to a 64-51 victory over No. 3 Central Valley (18-7) in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals at Peters Township.

It was a start befitting the team’s record — perfect.

The blazing opening half that included six 3-pointers, crisp ball movement and end-to-end energy propelled the upstart Scotties to their first WPIAL finals appearance.

“We came out on fire. Sarah hit those 3s and it was like, ‘OK, this might be our night,’ ” said senior guard Charity Henderson, who converted a four-point play when she was fouled as she made a 3 midway through the second quarter. Coach Brian Pritts was calling for a timeout as the ball left her hands — yes, it was that kind of night.

“We are ready to take the next step. We’re not satisfied,” Henderson said.

Another hot start could be what gives the Scotties a legitimate chance against top-seeded North Catholic (23-1), the team they’ll see at 7 p.m. Friday in the title game at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

It will be their most daunting task to date. Imagine being 24-0 and the underdog. That will be the Scotties’ plight Friday against the perennial power.

“That’s all right,” Pritts said. “We’re OK with that. Our girls like the challenge.”

A “statement” win in the semis could carry the Scotties a long way.

“We knew if we played like we can, we could have this chance,” Pritts said. “We’re the only team in Westmoreland and Fayette County still playing. When you talk about basketball in the WPIAL playoffs, you always hear about teams from Beaver County and Pittsburgh. But now people might be talking about little Southmoreland.”

Already a historic season for the program that includes a record for wins and the team’s deepest playoff run, Southmoreland would like to validate all of it with a bracket-busting upset.

North Catholic will be looking to add to its WPIAL record with a 20th title and will try to become just the sixth girls basketball team in WPIAL history to win four consecutive championships.

The Trojanettes have not lost to a WPIAL Class 4A team in the six-classification era. They pulled away from Blackhawk late for a 71-51 win in the other semifinal Monday. Despite 24 turnovers, North Catholic outrebounded the Cougars, 36-18, and got double-doubles from Tess Myers (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Sarah Berardelli (10 and 10).

Pritts said the team playing in the Cal U tournament on a college floor could help with the atmosphere at Pitt. That, and a sea of red.

“We’re so happy to have all of this support,” said Cernuto, referring to a Southmoreland-heavy crowd in the semifinal. “We’re all a big family.”

Cernuto had a game-high 23 points Monday.

Central Valley fought back to cut a 21-point lead to eight with 4:20 to play Monday, but Southmoreland held its ground.

North Catholic likes to come at teams in waves.

“That’s our M.O.,” Pritts said. “Our girls play with that grit and toughness. That’s how they’ve been since Day 1. That’s the kind of thing you don’t always see in the box score.”

The Scotties have stretched the rotation to eight players, getting key minutes from sophomore Gracie Spadaro (15 ppg) and senior Erika Sherbondy (six 3-pointers in the playoffs), as well as reserves in freshman Maddie Moore, senior Carlie Collins and sophomore Delaynie Morvosh.

WPIAL Class 4A girls basketball championship

7 p.m. Friday night

Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh

Starters

Southmoreland (24-0)

5 Charity Henderson Sr., 5-4, G

10 Olivia Cernuto Fr., 5-7, G

11 Erika Sherbondy Sr., 5-8, G

15 Gracie Spadaro So., 5-11, F

24 Sarah Pisula, Sr., 6-0, F

North Catholic (23-1)

2 Emma Pospisil Sr., 5-7, G

3 Cassie Foster Sr., 5-7, G

21 Kylee Lewandowski Sr., 6-1, G

23 Tess Myers Sr., 5-10, G

31 Belle O’Hara Sr., 5-11, F

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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