Elizabeth Forward girls pull off huge upset of Blackhawk
Blackhawk went into the playoffs as the only undefeated team in the WPIAL and appeared to have an easy semifinal draw with Elizabeth Forward.
After all, these were the Warriors that had trouble with undermanned West Mifflin, nearly lost to a sub.-500 Ringgold team and was summarily drubbed by South Park in their final regular-season game.
But the Cougars are no longer undefeated, and the Warriors earned an opportunity to play for their first WPIAL Class AAA title since 1975 as fifth-seeded Elizabeth Forward (23-2) pulled off a 78-64 playoff upset of No. 1 Blackhawk (24-1) at West Allegheny.
“We just kept telling ourselves that we had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose because they were undefeated, and we wanted it,” Elizabeth Forward guard Alison Pastore said. “We wanted it more than anything, and we played our hearts out.”
Pastore led Elizabeth Forward with 23 points, but it may have been more what she and fellow guards Macy Pekala, Kylie Owoc and Abigail Sporio did when they didn't have the ball that had the greatest impact on the outcome. The Warriors' defense made Blackhawk sophomore Chassidy Omogrosso, a Pitt recruit, into little more than a designated free-throw shooter. They limited her to two 3-pointers and 10 of 14 from the line.
“There hasn't been anybody that's been able to do that this year, and their point guard (Pekala) was a lot quicker than we thought,” Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico said. “They did a great job of sticking Chas … but I feel bad that it had to happen.”
With Omogrosso relegated to the occasional dribble-penetration and a few trips to the line, Elizabeth Forward was able to do something no team had been able to do all season — force Blackhawk to play from behind from the opening tip. The Cougars still cycled the ball well up top but were rarely able to penetrate inside and were forced to take contested shots from the perimeter.
“We were just going to watch the guards and switch on every pick so we weren't going to try to fight through the pick. If they penetrate, we wanted to have one big (girl) in there,” Elizabeth Forward coach Sam Kosanovich said. “Sometimes they did penetrate and made a dump-off pass and we didn't do well with that, but our guards did an outstanding job on their guards and harassed them all over the floor.”
Instead of imposing their will upon an opponent, the Cougars were in chase mode throughout the game. Elizabeth Forward jumped out to a 4-0 lead on baskets by Dana Buck ( 14 points, 10 rebounds) and Pastore in the first 44 seconds. The Warriors never trailed.
“A couple times we lost our composure and took some shots that weren't really there,” Lodovico said. “Like I said, we never played from behind, so we started forcing some stuff. We're usually a patient team, but (in this one) we weren't.”
Elizabeth Forward wasn't patient, either, but despite pushing the play at almost every turn the Warriors were able to extend their lead to 39-29 at halftime thanks to a blistering 15 of 27 (55.6 percent) shooting performance from the field in the first half. One of the major reasons was the hot shooting of forward Natalie Fekula, who scored 17 of her 20 in the first half.
Still, though the Warriors won't play until 3 p.m. Saturday, they have an intimate knowledge of their opponent and the motivation to prepare them for their date at Palumbo Center. Most importantly, Elizabeth Forward will have an opportunity to avenge its only loss to a WPIAL team: It will take on third-seeded South Park (22-2), which delivered a 75-55 pounding to defending champion Hopewell in the other semifinal.
“That loss — I think we just need to throw it behind us because we're a different team,” Fekula said. “I think we've reached our high point and maybe there's more to come, and hopefully that can take us through to be champions.”