Undefeated Southmoreland decided underdog against North Catholic

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Thursday, February 27, 2020 | 6:52 PM


Overcoming the stigma of playing a perennial powerhouse can be just as important as matching baskets with one.

It also could be the key intangible that drives an upset.

Southmoreland is 24-0 but is a decided underdog heading into its first WPIAL girls basketball championship game Friday night at Petersen Events Center.

Top-seeded North Catholic (23-1), the three-time defending champion in Class 4A — the program with more WPIAL titles than any other in the sport (19) — is the team awaiting the Scotties.

“North Catholic is very good, and they are well-coached,” Southmoreland coach Brian Pritts said. “They are sound on both ends of the court. We can’t let the game be bigger than what it is. I know that is tough to say, but we have to keep ourselves in check that it is another game, just like the 24 we have already played this season.”

North Catholic is in the finals for the sixth straight season and has developed a comfort level playing at the Pete.

“​Obviously, having been there the past three years makes us more comfortable,” Trojanettes coach Molly Rottmann said. “But there is no denying that everyone initially, at the start of the game, is feeling the pressure with the magnitude of the game and wanting to win. Hopefully having been there before, we settle in quickly.”

Southmoreland never has made it this far but has played with a been-there-before demeanor, especially in a 64-51 win over Central Valley in the semifinals.

The Scotties have secured their first PIAA playoff berth but would like nothing more than to cap the WPIAL season with a title.

“We are undefeated and have been an underdog in many games,” Pritts said. “Our girls have a pretty good focus and way about them. We talk about competitive stamina, and Friday will be another opportunity for us to go out and compete. That is what the girls love to do: compete.”

North Catholic is powered by seniors, including Division I commits Tess Myers (Duquesne) and Kylee Lewandowski (Richmond). Myers averages 16 points.

The Trojanettes’ only loss was to Class 5A No. 1 seed Chartiers Valley (23-0).

Close games in the quarterfinals and semifinals turned into one-sided affairs. The Trojanettes were tied with Quaker Valley, 31-31, but ended their quarterfinal game on a 16-0 run to win 47-31.

In the semis, Blackhawk trailed North Catholic at the half, 33-30. North Catholic won, 71-51.

“They have weapons and are long, but we too are long and have weapons, too,” Pritts said. “The champion will have controlled the pace of the game, protected the ball and played solid, sound defense.”

Defense has been the Scotties’ bread and butter. They allow an average of 31.7 points and only three teams — Belle Vernon, Freeport and Central Valley — have managed 50 or more against them.

Six-foot senior Sarah Pisula (7.3 rebounds) and 5-11 sophomore Gracie Spadaro (16 ppg) will try to counteract some of the Trojanettes’ size.

Impressive freshman point guard Olivia Cernuto (10.7 points, 4.1 steals) continues to mature with each game. She had 23 points in the semifinal win and made 11 of 14 free throws.

Senior guard Erika Sherbondy has created a spark from behind the 3-point line.

“​Southmoreland is a talented group,” Rottmann said. “They play very well together and have a lot of offensive weapons that they can utilize. They have nice length and depth.

“They may be new to the finals, but they are a riding a very successful season and playing with a lot of confidence.”

North Catholic, which averaged 65 points, also can play some defense. It has limited 11 opponents to 40 or less and held section opponents to 35.7 per game.

“​We have to focus on what we do well and play within ourselves, remember our defensive principles and do a good job on the boards,” Rottmann said.

North Catholic will look to join an elite group. Only five other WPIAL girls basketball programs have won four straight titles: Vincentian Academy, Aliquippa, Penn Hills, Geibel and Oakland Catholic.

Rottman played at North Catholic under storied coach Don Barth. She has eight WPIAL titles but is closing in Barth’s 11.

“​These seniors have amassed quite a resume,” Rottmann said. “The legacy they leave, win or lose, is quite impressive and won’t be replicated anytime soon. Winning four straight would put them in a very elite group, and I know that they want that. We are always just trying to live up to the standards that Mr. Barth created in this program.”

WPIAL Class 4A girls basketball championship

7 p.m. Friday

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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