BELLEVUE — Most of its opponents have struggled keeping pace with North Catholic’s girls basketball team this season.
McKeesport had no such trouble in the first quarter of Saturday’s PIAA Class 4A playoff opener, leading 21-17 entering the second period.
From then on, however, the Trojanettes buckled down on defense. They surrendered just 21 additional points over the final three quarters in a 58-42 victory at Northgate High School.
“We’ve started out slow in a number of games this season,” said North Catholic senior forward Dani Short. “I think it’s just a matter of communicating with each other, when to help on defense, things like that. It comes to us as the game plays out.”
The Trojanettes (23-3) will meet Blackhawk, which crushed District 9 champion Punxsutawney, 70-46, in Wednesday’s second round at Fox Chapel High School.
North Catholic settled for a split as the boys dropped a 64-51 decision to Forest Hills in the second game of the doubleheader.
Short became the focal point of North Catholic’s offense in the second quarter. Her basket with 30 seconds remaining in the half put the Trojanettes up for good at 29-27. Short scored four of her team’s five field goals in the period and ended the game with a team-leading 16 points and added eight rebounds.
“They (Tigers) were playing a 2-3 zone where the guards come up and the wings were spread out wide,” said North Catholic coach Molly Rottmann. “That left Dani one-on-one in the middle. She did a better job of making shots, beginning in the second quarter and we did a better job of turning, looking and getting the ball to her.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers efficiency on offense began to crumble in the second quarter under the weight of 10 turnovers. McKeesport (13-10) got off just five shot attempts from the floor in that span.
The Tigers’ frontcourt players, namely Nevaeh Stepanik and Jhayla Bray, combined for 12 points and 11 rebounds in the first half after which the Trojanettes led 31-27.
“They were a little stronger in the paint than our girls expected,” said Rottmann.”
McKeesport’s offense slowed to a trickle in the third quarter as North Catholic managed a lethal blow in that span in the form of an 18-4 run. It included an 11-2 spurt in the final three minutes of the period.
Junior Kylee Lewandowski added 14 points and seven rebounds.
Boys Forest Hills 64, North Catholic 51
The fourth quarter proved the undoing of the Trojans.
They began the final eight minutes leading the Rangers by three points, 46-43.
And when Isaac DeGregorio drained a 3-pointer early in the final stanza, it appeared as though the uphill climb would belong to Forest Hills.
North Catholic would endure a 6-minute scoreless drought, however, and when Hans Rottmann finally got a shot to fall with 1:40 left, it was the Trojans who were staring at a 61-51 deficit.
Seven turnovers and a 2-of-13 shooting effort from the floor in the final period spelled the end of North Catholic’s season.
“I’ll have to go back and watch the film, but I was OK with the shots we were taking,” said Trojans’ coach Dave DeGregorio. “They looked good, but we just looked sluggish.”
“We won most of the 50/50 balls in the fourth quarter,” said Rangers’ coach Dominic Vescovi. “That set the tempo. A lot of credit goes to our guys for staying ahead of No. 55 (North Catholic point guard Isaac DeGregorio). He’s a handful.”
A pair of Forest Hills senior forwards — Adam Cecere and Josh Schrock — owned the paint for much of the game. Cecere scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.