Shaky start doesn't derail Serra Catholic in Class A win
When you think about it, seven years isn't really a long time.
But for Bill Cleary, it felt like a lifetime ago.
Since leading his Serra Catholic girls' basketball team to four consecutive WPIAL Class A title games from 2003-06, the Eagles have failed to get out of the quarterfinals, let alone advance to the championship game.
So much for that.
Serra rallied from a 10-point second-half deficit to outscore North Catholic, 30-13, over the final 11 minutes, as the Eagles advanced to their ninth championship game in school history with a 56-45 win at Keystone Oaks.
“I was telling my wife before the game that it has been quite awhile since I've had this feeling before a game,” said Cleary, who has four WPIAL titles and 523 wins in 26 years. “The anticipation, the nerves. When we were making it to Palumbo year after year, what are you going to do? OK, let's do it. This hasn't happened in a while, so this is a pretty special night.”
Serra (23-2) will take on No. 1 seed and defending champion Vincentian, a 57-38 winner over Quigley Catholic, at Palumbo Center at 11 a.m. Saturday. Serra lost to Vincentian, 67-59, earlier in the season, but that was the least of the Eagles' concerns after the game.
“This means everything to us,” junior forward Nicole Pero said. “This has been our goal since the beginning of June. Everyone doubted us at first, and now we are here. It is just the best feeling.”
Serra got a balanced scoring attack led by Leslie Hoye's 15 points. Pero added 12 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, while Katie Sieg added 12.
North Catholic (15-10) got 20 points from Lauren Wolosik, but the Central Connecticut recruit hit only 3-of-13 second-half shots while playing all 32 minutes. Wolosik came into the game leading Class A in scoring with 27 points per game.
“We made her run a lot to get the ball,” Cleary said. “She had to go baseline to baseline and had to bring it up because of our pressure. You don't extend too far out because you don't want to give a kid like that a running start to the basket. You want to pick her up and contain her.”
Serra had issues other than containing Wolosik in the first half: The Eagles couldn't put the ball in the basket. The Eagles missed 10 of their first 11 shots, and it didn't get much better. Serra shot 20 percent from the floor in the opening 16 minutes, and North Catholic opened up a 27-19 halftime lead.
“I was going crazy, and my son (assistant coach Jordan Cleary) grabs me and said, ‘Dad, the ball is going to go in — eventually,' ” Cleary said. “All we needed was a couple hoops and it was going to straighten us out. I told them at halftime that we've come back from nine (points behind) before.”
North Catholic led, 31-21, with five minutes left in the third when Jordan Cleary's prediction came true. Hoye and Jessie Manfredi hit 3-pointers before Pero took over.
Pero scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in a span of three minutes, as Serra went on a 23-3 run to take a 44-35 lead early in the fourth.
Serra shot 54 percent from the floor in the decisive second half.
“They came out aggressive in the second half, and I feel that we did not,” North Catholic coach Molly Rottmann said. “We got a little bit tight and missed a couple of shots. That affects you on defense, and all of a sudden you aren't moving much and not getting your hands on loose balls. To Serra's credit, they played hard and battled back.”