Union’s postseason run rolls on with PIAA semifinal win
Tuesday, March 21, 2023 | 10:51 PM
If ever an adage was suited for Class A athletics, bet on the old “we-wear-many-hats” proverb. Just ask Union girls basketball coach Rob Nogay what goes into creating a successful season at Pennsylvania’s smallest high school level.
Generally, with limited resources, the multi-tasking never ends.
“I got this job four years ago, and these seniors were freshmen when we started,” Nogay said. “The work they put in is unbelievable at a Class A school.”
When Nogay’s players aren’t involved in other school projects and interests, they’re honing their skills on the hardwood, where the Scotties on Tuesday night pulled away for a 45-31 victory over Berlin Brothersvalley in a Class A semifinal matchup of district champions at Hempfield.
The Scotties have reached the state finals for the first time. It is an extension of the team’s valiant run at a title last season, ending with a quarterfinals loss to District 6 champion Portage.
Union junior Kelly Cleaver led all scorers with 15 points and was the only player on either team to reach double figures as Union (22-6) extended its winning streak to 16.
The WPIAL-champion Scotties from New Castle rebounded from a slow start to outscore District 5 top seed Berlin Brothersvalley 36-18 in the second half to cement a trip to Hershey’s Giant Center on Friday for the Class A championship game against Our Lady of Lourdes Regional, the District 4 third seed.
Lourdes (21-7) edged District 2 champion Mountain View, 34-33, in the other girls semifinal at Berwick Middle School.
“They’re doing so many different things,” Nogay said of his players. “Who’s in the musical? Who’s waiting to play softball right now? Who’s playing volleyball? Who’s playing basketball? I couldn’t be more proud and excited for these girls right now.”
Union, while managing to put up just one field goal in the fourth quarter, used a 15-for-20 effort at the foul line to turn a three-point game into a rout in the final 3½ minutes.
“They’re excellent foul shooters and they put the game away that way,” said Berlin Brothersvalley coach Rachel Prosser, whose husband, former Brentwood star Tanner Prosser, coaches the Mountaineers boys team, which on Monday earned a trip to Hershey by beating previously undefeated District 3 champion Linville Hill Christian, 63-45.
The Berlin Brothersvalley boys will face WPIAL champion Imani Christian in the Class A championship game on Thursday.
The Prossers’ son Pace is a 6-foot-1 junior on the Mountaineers’ squad.
Coincidentally, while the Union girls have reached the finals, the Scotties boys team was denied a spot after losing to Imani Christian in the semifinals.
Nogay said a halftime discussion about stepping up play on the defensive end paid off. The Union girls overcame a slow start that saw the Scotties score just two first-quarter points and trail Berlin Brothersvalley at halftime, 13-9.
“We had some nerves early on, but we were able to buckle down defensively,” Nogay said. “When we’re good, we’re playing good defense. We were getting beat up on the glass in the first half. The big thing for us is to box out. We came to play in the second half.”
A 19-9 third-quarter advantage jump-started the Union offense.
Kayla Fruchstorfer’s 3-point shot gave Union a 16-13 lead and the Scotties never again trailed, carrying a six-point, 28-22 margin into the fourth quarter.
The teams traded baskets for the first 4½ minutes of the fourth before Union scored its final 11 points on free throws, outscoring Berlin Brothersvalley, 13-2, to pull away.
“We had our opportunities,” Prosser said. “They just hit a couple of shots and we didn’t, and then the ball just didn’t bounce our way, so to speak. There’s not really words. It hurts right now, but we’ll have a lot of memories.”
Seton Hill commit Grace Sechler’s nine points led Berlin Brothersvalley (23-6).
With two days to prepare for its championship outing, Union’s Nogay predicted his players would continue to wear their many hats.
“We’ll just talk about keeping our feet on the ground and going out and giving a good effort,” he said. “We’ll just see what we can do to represent the WPIAL and represent Lawrence County well. We’re going to go out and play hard.”
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