WPIAL Girls Basketball Team of the Week: Week ending Feb. 22

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Sunday, February 23, 2020 | 9:57 PM


Over the last 11 years, Win Palmer has led his Sewickley Academy boys basketball team to four WPIAL championships and two PIAA titles.

At the same time, the Panthers girls basketball team has gone through ups and downs in the past decade-plus.

However, the tide is turning for the Sewickley Academy girls after reaching the WPIAL quarterfinals twice and the semifinals once in the last three years.

Last winter, after losing to West Greene in the district quarterfinals, the Panthers won a pair of state playoff games before losing in the PIAA quarterfinals.

Now, under first-year coach Mark Gaither, Sewickley Academy is making postseason noise again.

“Sewickley Academy is truly a great place where the boys and girls basketball teams support one another. The boys have been terrific supporters all season and come to many of our games. There’s been a buzz going around campus this past week in particular.”

The buzz began after Sewickley Academy routed St. Joseph, 53-27.

“It was important for us to get that first-round playoff game under our belt,” Gaither said. “With no seniors on the roster, you could see our playoff jitters early in the game. Then we were able to settle in and get more comfortable in the second half.”

The Panthers raised eyebrows Friday with a quarterfinals stunner, a 43-31 victory over perennial Class A power and section rival Vincentian Academy.

“The biggest difference against Vincentian was that we defended better and were better prepared for their pressure,” Gaither said. “The first two meetings were tight first halves, and then we didn’t handle their pressure defense in the second half. We kept our composure this time around, and that was a big part of our success.”

Over the Panthers’ last 11 games, they are 9-2 and headed to the WPIAL final four riding a six-game winning streak that includes the two playoff wins plus victories over Class 2A top seed Serra Catholic and Class 3A semifinalist Avonworth.

“We’ve really matured and grown as a team this season,” Gaither said. “The girls are playing with a lot of confidence right now and have nice chemistry.”

Leading the way for the Panthers in both postseason wins was junior Kamryn Lightcap, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds against St. Joseph’s and 13 points and 10 rebounds against Vincentian Academy.

“Kamryn has been great for us all season,” Gaither said. “We have no seniors, which can be tough on a team to not have senior leadership. Kamryn has been that steady force for us and been a true leader by example on both ends of the floor. We can count on her to bring her best effort every night.”

Defense has been key all year, but especially in the postseason, when Sewickley has yielded 58 points in two games. The Panthers held Vincentian to about half of its average points per game.

“The girls have bought into what we are doing defensively and playing great team defense,” Gaither said. “Defense makes our offense go. They are playing so hard and with a lot of energy on the defensive end, which has been a key to our success.”

Sewickley Academy faces undefeated West Greene on Tuesday in the semifinals. The Pioneers won by 18 in a nonsection game at the end of January. The Panthers hope to make school history and reach the WPIAL title game for the first time.

“We are excited to be here and really enjoying the ride,” Gaither said. “West Greene is a great team, obviously, with their undefeated record. We’ve played a tough nonsection schedule to help prepare us for the postseason. We feel like we didn’t play our best at West Greene. We are looking forward to the challenge of facing another strong team.”

Previous Trib HSSN Teams of the Week:

Week 9 – South Side Rams

Week 8 – Penn Hills Indians

Week 7 – Carlynton Cougars

Week 6 – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Chargers

Week 5 – Woodland Hills Wolverines

Week 4 – West Greene Pioneers

Week 3 – Southmoreland Scotties

Week 2 – Bethel Park Black Hawks

Week 1 – Hopewell Vikings

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