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Elizabeth Forward girls eager to take on top-seeded Blackhawk

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
Elizabeth Forward's Andrea Paterra (34) and Olivia Barkley (44) react to winning a WPIAL Class AAA first-round basketball game at Plum High School on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. (Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch)
Elizabeth Forward defender Natalie Fekula guards West Mifflin's Taylor Thomas on Jan. 30, 2013 at Elizabeth Forward. (Ronald Vezzani Jr. I For the Daily News)

Blackhawk won't be changing sections anytime soon — the earliest it could happen would be the next PIAA realignment in 2014 — but through the first two rounds of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs the Cougars have gotten a nibble of what it would be like to play in Section 4.

The taste has been to their liking.

Blackhawk (24-0) opened the postseason when it rolled over West Mifflin by 21 then followed it with a 25-point victory over Belle Vernon. But the top-seeded Cougars will likely get their toughest test from Section 4 champion, No. 5 Elizabeth Forward (22-2), when the two teams meet at 8 p.m. Wednesday in the semifinals at West Allegheny.

“I think they're really hard-nosed, gritty kind of kids, and they're just a very solid all-around team,” Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico said. “Any one of their top eight girls can score, so you just have to be ready for everybody.”

You could turn that around and use the same description for Blackhawk, the only undefeated team remaining in the girls' draw in any classification. The Cougars have four scorers averaging in double figures led by sophomore Pitt commit point guard Chassidy Omogrosso and her 22 points per game.

In addition to Omogrosso, senior forward Alexis Graham (12.7), sophomore guard Bridgette Shaffer (12.1) and junior guard Halle Denman (11.1) form a balanced scoring attack that has scored 70.3 points per game — second only to Class AA Seton-La Salle's 71.2 — and has outscored its opponents by nearly 30 a game.

“We've got to play defense like we're capable of, and we just can't get beat on the dribble because they'll just penetrate underneath or just kick it out,” Elizabeth Forward coach Sam Kosanovich said. “We're going to put pressure on them, but we just can't get beat on the dribble drives or in transition.”

Though Elizabeth Forward qualified for the state playoffs in 2012, this is still a team learning about the playoffs and its opponent as it goes along. The Warriors have not won a WPIAL Class AAA title since 1975, have not made it to the semifinals since 1990 and have not played Blackhawk since a 54-50 regular-season loss to the Cougars on Dec. 6, 2004.

“They're really happy to have this opportunity, but our goal has always been to go as far as we can and ... so far we've controlled our own destiny,” Kosanoivich said. “They're excited to play against this team, and I don't see a lot of nervous players. It's a reward to get this far, and hopefully we can continue.”

If there is one similarity between the two teams it's that neither Blackhawk nor Elizabeth Forward has to rely on one scorer. But while the Cougars have all five starters back from last season's team that lost to South Park in the WPIAL semifinals and to Chartiers Valley in the state quarterfinals, the Warriors don't know who is starting game to game, which has kept all of its players both eager to work hard in practice and ready when their name is called.

Dana Buck (11.1) and Natalie Fekula (10.3) have been the team's leading scorers through the season, but in the playoffs the team has gotten solid contributions from its role players. Sophomore Olivia Barkley scored 16 points in the team's playoff-opening win against Mars, while Kylie Owoc came off the bench for 16 in the win over No. 4 Central Valley.

Still, perhaps the draw might be the best thing that could have happened to Elizabeth Forward. Not only did the Warriors get a good look at Blackhawk, they were able to gauge their talent against two teams they knew very well and beat twice each during the regular season.

“I think it might be a small advantage,” Kosanovich said. “But the fact is we have to execute, play good defense and do what we have to do.”

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