Gateway girls exorcise demons from 2012 playoff loss
Earlier this season, the Gateway varsity girls basketball team scored a 59-56 victory over Upper St. Clair and gained a measure of revenge for a tough 55-53 upset loss to the Panthers in the first round of last year's WPIAL Quad-A playoffs.
The Gators players who experienced last year's playoff heartbreaker also got a chance to exorcise another demon Tuesday night against Oakland Catholic in the first round of this year's WPIAL Quad-A tournament.
The loss to USC was on the gym floor at Baldwin High School, which was the location of Tuesday's contest with the Eagles.
With balanced scoring — six players tallied at least seven points and none had more than 10 — Gateway finished off its demons from 2012 and upended Oakland Catholic, 55-40.
“It felt really good,” Gateway head coach Cornelius Nesbit said.
“To be honest, when we found out the site of the game, I was excited. I am a firm believer that there is a reason things happen. There was a reason we had to come here and have a chance to get a win on this floor. We had to complete it, and this group stepped up to the plate.”
Gateway improved to 19-4 overall with the win and advanced to the quarterfinals on Friday against the winner of No. 2 seed North Allegheny and Baldwin.
The game between the Tigers and Highlanders finished past Tuesday evening's deadline for this week's edition.
“We're one win away from qualifying for states,” Nesbit said.
“We will have our hands full (in the quarterfinals), but our kids believe.”
Oakland Catholic, the third-place team from Section 3, wrapped up its season at 9-14.
The Eagles played in the PIAA championship game last year and finished 28-3. They lost a lot to graduation from that team, but, Nesbit said, he knew Tuesday's contest wouldn't be easy.
“A lot of those girls were on last year's state-finals team, so you can't discount experience,” Nesbit said.
“Some of those girls maybe didn't play a lot, but they were along for the ride. There is tradition that goes along with playing at Oakland Catholic. Those girls understand winning and playing tough basketball, so we knew we were going to have a battle on our hands.”
Gateway junior Jada Epps was a student at Oakland Catholic through the end of last year, and she experienced the run to the state finals.
But, she said, she's a Gator now and was pleased to be a big part of Tuesday's win.
“I was ready to play with my team,” Epps said. “I was excited.”
Gateway forced 18 Oakland Catholic turnovers — nine in each half.
“The only way you advance at this point is by playing good defense,” Nesbit said.
“Our goal is 38 points or below, because that is what we gave up all season. We make sure we practice and put a lot of emphasis on defense.”
Gateway led 13-5 in the second quarter when Oakland Catholic went on a 9-2 run on the strength of a trio of 3-pointers to cut the deficit to 15-14 with 5:27 until halftime.
The Gators then went on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes to extend the lead to 11 at 25-14, its largest advantage of the first half.
Epps and sophomore Morgan Hainsey each scored 10 points to lead Gateway, while junior Katey Wilson added nine points — all in the second half.
Wilson was 6 for 6 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
Seniors Chelsea Richardson and Maria Taylor each contributed eight points, and Taylor pulled down eight rebounds.
Junior London Wade came off the bench to score seven points for the Gators.
A Wade jumper and foul shot capped the 10-0 Gateway run in the second quarter
“That's who we are,” Nesbit said.
“We want to be balanced. We haven't relied on one player to do all the scoring. We don't know who's night it's going to be, but we know we have a lot of kids who can put points on the board.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.