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Shady Side Academy Claims First WPIAL Title After Upsetting Avonworth, 52-45

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Shady Side Academy

PITTSBURGH — Shady Side Academy avenged their heartbreaking loss from a season ago in the semifinals, as they defeated Avonworth 52-45, for the WPIAL girls’ Class 3A title. 

The Bulldogs (24-2) win their first ever WPIAL Title in girls’ basketball with the victory. The Lopes (22-2) also missed out on an opportunity to win their second straight and eighth WPIAL title overall, as they defeated the Laurel Spartans last season. 

“It feels amazing, man,” Bulldogs sophomore Karis Thomas said. “Doing it with these girls, it is everything we have been working for.”

“Last year we were so close and this whole season has been about trying to get back into this position,” Bulldogs first-year guard Cassie Sauer added.

While it was the first WPIAL title for the school, Bulldogs head coach Jonna Burke bagged her second WPIAL title as a head coach  after winning the 2013 WPIAL Class 4A title as head coach of Bethel Park.

“When you win one, you are just never sure if you are going to get back [to another one,]” Burke said. “Certainly, I have come up short several times and to win one in a different school and for it to be the first and only one that they have ever won, it is special. It is really special because it connects us [as a team] forever.”

The game started with Shady Side Academy leaping out to an early lead of 8-5, but the scoring slowed down as two of the WPIAL’s best defensive teams began to lockdown. Avonworth held a slim lead of two points after the first quarter, but Emma Obersteiner extended their advantage to four after a beautiful floater. She tallied nine points and six rebounds in the championship defeat for the Lopes.

Shady Side Academy quickly tied the score back up after sophomore Karis Thomas scored two baskets that gave her team a slim one-point lead, as the two teams entered halftime with the score, 22-21.

Thomas finished the championship game with 11 points as she did most of her damage from the free throw line, making 5-of-6 attempts.

Bulldogs sophomore Maggie Spell excelled offensively, as she built her squad’s lead up to 6 points

“The way the first quarter and the second quarter, and I’d even say halfway through the third quarter we were right there,” Lopes head coach Nick Dizon said after the loss. “We just couldn’t get that run, we didn’t get that stretch of two or three shots to fall like we have [in the past].”

Spell consistently got to the basket and helped the Bulldogs dominate the paint once the second half began, giving them Bulldogs a 36-16 advantage over the Antelopes inside of the paint. Spell finished the contest with a game-high 31 points shooting 10-for-16 from the field for an efficient day on the court in the biggest game of the season.

“Maggie [Spell] came up big,” Burke said. “Maggie seems to a have a nose for the ball where it is at. There was a couple of loose balls that I thought she just found it. She is strong going to the hoop and getting fouled. A couple of times she made some plays some plays where she was really sacrificing herself, she flew out of bounds so I am sure she will feel really sore tomorrow. To me, Maggie is all about big moments so she just did what she usually does for us tonight.”

Spell did not slow down in the fourth quarter as she carried the bulk of the scoring on her back. The knockout blow for the Lopes came when Spell converted an and-one with 6:07 left. At that point, the score climbed to an overwhelming 42-34 deficit for the Lopes which all but sealed the fate of the game.

“We haven’t played a team with a dominate post and I think that got to us a little bit,” Lopes forward Rebecca Goetz said. “Every single one of their players can make a shot and make a move… I think the fact that they were able to score in every place, we haven’t seen a team like that yet.”

The Lopes fought back in the final minute as Greta O’Brien tried to wheel her team back in it, but it was just too late for them to make a comeback. O’Brien finished with 14 points in the loss, while teammate Rebecca Goetz added a team-high 18 points for the Lopes.

“This is not the end for us,” Lopes guard Eden Schleis said. “We are not going to give up now.”

“Eden kind of said it best, this isn’t it for us,” Dizon added.

While the Bulldogs walked away with the gold medal, both teams still have games ahead of them as they now enter the state playoffs.

Shady Side Academy hosts the loser of the District Six third place game Friday night, featuring Central Cambria against River Valley. Avonworth takes on the third place winner of District 10, as Seneca will face off against Wilmington Saturday afternoon. First Round of the PIAA Class 3A Girls’ playoffs starts next Friday, March 8.

“You never know [how states will go],” Burke said as her players confidently shook their heads. “Of course I think that we can [go far]. This is something that you have to fight against sometimes. When you win a championship, now my job is to keep these guys motivated to keep going.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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