Undefeated Southmoreland girls survive stern test from Freeport

Thursday, February 20, 2020 | 11:41 PM

Southmoreland made history and continued its perfect season, but the Scotties had to earn every bit of it.

With its gang-busting defense saddled with its toughest test of the season, and Freeport answering each punch with an even better counter-punch, Southmoreland had to find a way to get to 23-0.

The second-seeded Scotties did, in dramatic fashion.

They advanced to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time, qualified for the PIAA playoffs for the first time and broke the school record for wins in a season, but not before they fended off fearless Freeport, 54-52, in a Class 4A girls basketball quarterfinal thriller Thursday night at packed Penn-Trafford.

“That was a tough one,” said Scotties senior guard Erika Sherbondy, who made four first-half 3-pointers. “It was so rigorous. They were fighting just as hard as we were, which made it really tough. It was an incredible game.”

Southmoreland (23-0) advances to face No. 3-seeded Central Valley (18-3) Monday in the semifinals at a time and site to be determined.

The Scotties came in allowing just 29.9 points. Only Belle Vernon had scored 50 against them.

“I am really proud of our girls, the way they showed the resolve and the strength and character to finish,” Southmoreland coach Brian Pritts said. “And we got it done at the end. All eight of our core girls contributed to this win. They all did little things that led to this win. The atmosphere was amazing.”

No. 7 Freeport (17-7), stocked with a healthy lineup it didn’t have earlier in the season when Southmoreland dealt it a 40-point loss, took the Scotties to the brink in the near bracket-busting upset.

The Yellowjackets countered the Scotties’ size with quick drives to the rim, negotiating the length disadvantage with their speed.

“When we were down two (with three minutes left), I really thought we were going to win that game,” Freeport coach Fred Soilis said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be the same game as before. We wore more nervous Monday (in the first round), to be honest. We had nothing to lose tonight.”

The lead never got above four in the second half.

Freeport had a 49-47 edge when senior Harley Holloway made a layup, but Scotties’ sophomore Gracie Spadaro tied it with 2:40 to play.

Sophomore Delaynie Morvosh connected on a 3-pointer to make it 52-49 with 33 seconds left, but Freeport answered again in a game that saw 15 lead changes and six ties. Freshman Melaina Dezort caught a pass and buried a three from the wing with 15 seconds remaining and it was 52-52.

With 5.8 to play, Scotties senior forward Sarah Pisula made 1 of 2 free throws for a 53-52 edge.

Freeport then attempted a long inbounds pass, but Pisula stepped in front and ripped the ball out of the air for a crucial steal. She went to the foul line and again made 1 of 2 shots to make it 54-52.

“I just tried to think of it like it was practice,” Pisula said of the free throws. “Just step up and make them. We all knew we were going to pull it out.”

The Yellowjackets had one last look but a long two-pointer by Dezort missed at the horn.

The Yellowjackets were seeking their first semifinal trip since 2004.

“Our girls played with passion,” Soilis said. “Freeport basketball is back on the map.”

Seniors Sidney Shemanski and Madeline Clark did not play against Southmoreland in the teams’ tip-off tournament matchup. Shemanski had 16 points this time to lead three double-digit scorers for the Yellowjackets. Dezort and senior Samantha Clark had 10 apiece.

“Freeport came after us tonight,” Pritts said. “Sidney Shemanski is the real deal. We played them earlier this year, and she wasn’t there. We played them two years ago in a Christmas tournament, and she was sick. So we didn’t get to face her. You can see somebody on film but until you get that feel — she came out on a mission. Freeport shot the ball really well and attacked us and had us on our heels.”

Spadaro led all scorers with 17 points and Sherbondy added 14. Pisula chipped in eight and four blocks.

“It was back and forth all day, point by point,” Sherbondy said. “In the end, we kind of pulled it out. We stopped them and Sarah’s foul shots advanced us.”

Sherbondy had the hot hand early for the Scotties to help put them ahead, 24-16.

Freeport finished the first half with an 8-2 spurt to close the gap to 27-25 at the break.

Southmoreland ended the first quarter on a 8-0 run to take a 16-10 advantage. It had an eight-point lead twice in the second quarter, the last at 25-17.

“They were so amped up and nervous,” Pritts said of his girls. “After the introductions, they were shaking. I told them, ‘It’s OK. So are they.’ That’s the pressure they put on themselves. But when it came crunch time, they dug in and got the plays done they needed to. It’s a shame someone had to lose this one tonight.”

Listen to an archived broadcast of this game at Trib HSSN.

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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