PITTSBURGH — Mt. Lebanon head coach Dori Oldaker texted her team Friday morning, “Gameday. Savor the day, savor these moments.”
The Blue Devils took that message to heart and defeated arch-rival Upper St. Clair, 55-44, in the WPIAL Class 6A Girls Championship Game at the Petersen Events Center on Friday night. Ashleigh Connor led the Blue Devils with a 23-point performance, and 16 of those points came in the second half.
“In the first quarter, my shots weren’t falling or anything, but that’s the only way to keep going and keep shooting, and in the second half they started falling,” Connor said. “We got a lot of energy and motivation (in the second half), and that just made me want to keep going.”
Connor kept going, and Upper St. Clair simply didn’t have an answer for her in the second half.
“She’s a great player,” Upper St. Clair head coach Pete Serio said. “She gets to the rim really, really well. And she gets a lot of man (defense) looks, and it’s tough to defend sometimes. I didn’t think our man was really all that bad, but she is a great player, and she got hers.”
Mount Lebanon made 18-of-51 shots from the field and was 5-of-18 from behind the arc, while Upper St. Clair was 17-of-49 and 4-of-11 on three-point attempts. Mia Brown and Rylee Kalocay were Upper St. Clair’s leading scorers with 13 points each.
After getting out of the gates slow and trailing Upper St. Clair, 8-3, at the end of the first quarter, Mount Lebanon bounced back and went on a 9-0 run and took a 14-13 lead at the 3:44 mark of the second quarter. With time winding down, Connor drove to the basket and converted a layup to give the Blue Devils an 18-15 lead at halftime.
“We had to play with a little bit of adversity,” Oldaker said about the slow start. “Shots weren’t hitting and we picked up some quick fouls. But, we just said, ‘Stay the course, relax, the shots will fall.’ Basketball is a game of momentum. And it can change at any time.”
Upper St. Clair and Mount Lebanon had the same amount of points off turnovers (6) and points in the paint in the first half (8). The Panthers committed 12 turnovers compared to the Blue Devils’ six giveaways, however.
The Blue Devils built off their momentum from the second quarter and out-scored Upper St. Clair 9-1 in the first three minutes of the second half. The Panthers answered and went on a 5-0 run to cut Mount Lebanon’s lead to 27-22 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Mount Lebanon and Upper St. Clair continued to trade possessions and the Blue Devils went into the fourth quarter with a narrow 33-28 lead. At the 5:07 mark of the fourth quarter, Payton Collins nailed a three-pointer to give Mount Lebanon a 42-35 advantage. Collins’ three-pointer was a real dagger, as Upper St. Clair never got within four points again.
The Panthers just couldn’t get consistent defensive stops down the stretch, and Mount Lebanon pulled away with a victory and a WPIAL Class-6A title.
“We had a couple of spurts and then the momentum seemed to shift,” Serio said. “Good teams make shots. Peyton Collins, we know she could shoot for a freshman, and she shot it well tonight. There was a couple of daggers.”
Oldaker now has six WPIAL titles at Mount Lebanon. She also has five PIAA championships. Oldaker said this WPIAL championship is the sweetest right now, however, as she’s living in the moment. It’s been 10 years since Mount Lebanon won a WPIAL title, so she knows how hard it is to accomplish.
“We need to cherish this and savor this.” Oldaker said. “We are going to enjoy this and prepare for hopefully a state title run.”