Leechburg girls have historic season ended in PIAA second round
Leechburg rotated the ball well at times in the second half and found the open look it wanted, but the ball wouldn't cooperate.
Desperately looking for a shot to fall to spark a run, the Blue Devils continued to see the ball clank off the rim. As each shot missed, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart inched further ahead and eventually pulled away. It brought an end to the one of the most successful seasons in Leechburg girls basketball history.
OLSH held Leechburg to 12 points in the second half in a 51-36 victory in the second round of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs Thursday at Canon-McMillan.
“Defense has been one of our fortes most of the season,” OLSH coach Don Eckerle said. “We have some scorers on the offensive side. That side of the game comes easy to them, but on defense they have to work really hard.”
The Chargers, who have won two PIAA playoff games each of the last three years, advanced to play District 6 runner up Bellwood-Antis, an 80-64 winner over WPIAL champion Chartiers-Houston on Thursday, in the quarterfinals Saturday at a time and site to be determined.
Leechburg (15-11) trailed by seven at halftime and couldn't find a way to break through that seven-point barrier in the second half. At the same time, they stayed within single digits until the final three minutes of the game. Blue Devils coach Joel Ceraso said they made an adjustment at halftime to try to solve OLSH's zone defense. He liked the results, except that they couldn't get a shot to fall through the hoop.
“We got the shots I think that we wanted, but they just weren't falling tonight,” Ceraso said. “The girls played hard, but they couldn't make anything happen.
“We never got into a rhythm. We slowed them down offensively in the second half. We made some adjustments that were working, but we couldn't get into our own rhythm offensively. That's normally the way we go. We turn the ball over and get something, turn the ball over again and get another one and it starts snowballing for us.”
OLSH closed the game on an 11-2 run. Kennede Mickle hit a two-pointer that was bookended by free throws to put the Chargers up 46-34 with 1 minute, 46 seconds remaining. Haley Hamilton made a 3-pointer from the right corner 31 seconds later to extend the lead to 15.
Leechburg trailed 17-16 after a fast-paced first quarter and traded the lead with the Chargers twice in the second, but OLSH closed the half on an 11-4 run to take a 31-24 lead into the locker room.
Mikayla Lovelace led Leechburg with 19 points and made two 3-pointers. Cam Davies had eight points, and Daesha Knight scored six. Like it has most of the season, Leechburg played its starters most of the game with the exception of a couple of brief stints by Maddie Ancosky off the bench.
The Blue Devils hit some new marks this season. They won their first WPIAL playoff game, made their first state playoff appearance and won a state playoff game. All five starters — Lovelace, Knight, Davies, Brittany Robillio and Makenzie Fello — return next season.
“We're very proud to have done what we did,” Ceraso said. “We're a goal-oriented team. We talked a lot about goals coming in, and getting to the state tournament was one of them. These girls worked hard. They keep focusing on those goals and keep checking them off. We'll just have to set some new goals for next year.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.