Serra's surprising season stalls in WPIAL title game
The last thing Serra Catholic coach Bill Cleary wanted to do was get philosophical.
However, after his team's improbable turnaround from a year ago ended a game short of a Class A championship Saturday with a 53-46 loss to Vincentian at Palumbo Center, the veteran coach of 26 years, four WPIAL titles, a state title and 523 wins allowed himself a minute for some perspective.
“You have to think that we lost last year in the first round of tournament with the same kids,” Cleary said. “It's the same kids who lost in the first round who are here in the Palumbo Center, and I am pretty darn proud of that. Trust me, you have to be pretty good to just be here.”
Serra just wasn't good enough to prevent Vincentian from winning its second straight title and third in four years, and it definitely wasn't good enough to slow down the Royals' Brenna Wise.
Wise concluded a dominant run through the postseason with 18 points, 20 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“I know she would make the big-time plays in a big-time game,” Vincentian coach Ron Moncrief said. “That's what she did, and she helped carry the team to a victory.”
Vincentian (25-1) play Keystone on Friday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. Serra (23-3) will face District 10 Cochranton.
Wise, a sophomore, capped an impressive two weeks of playoff basketball. Shehad 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks in a first-round win over West Greene; scored 24 and eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau in the quarterfinals against Winchester Thurston; and scored 20 and pulled down 22 rebounds in the semifinals against Quigley Catholic.
Wise may have saved her best for Serra.
“She is a phenomenal talent,” Cleary said. “She has a knack of making big plays when they need it the most. She is a special talent.”
Wise got plenty of help in securing the sixth girls basketball championship in Vincentian history. Kiersten Elliott scored 13 and Maia Joiner 12, including four critical free throws in the final 52 seconds.
Serra was led by Katie Sieg's 13 and Megan Sieg's 12. The Eagles were held to their lowest offensive output of the season, mostly because of poor shooting. Serra hit only 21-of-69 shots from the floor, including 1 of 14 from 3-point range.
“They just weren't falling,” Cleary said. “You can't make any excuses other than it just didn't go down.”
Vincentian contested every Serra shot, and did a good job of it. The Eagles had few open looks, especially from the 3-point line.
“We didn't want to give them anything easy,” Moncrief said. “They had too many easy buckets in the first half, so we switched a little and that kind of slowed them down.”
Serra raced out to an early lead, but it was short-lived. Vincentian led majority of the first half.
“Everybody has those jitters at the beginning of the game,” Wise said. “It's the championship. It's going to happen.”
Serra scored seven of the first nine points in the second half to take a 28-26 lead with a little more than three minutes left in the third quarter.
“We've been down before, and we didn't panic,” Moncrief said. “There's no panic in this group.”
The Royals reeled off 13 consecutive points to open up a 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
“They went into a different half-court pressure, and we didn't adjust fast enough,” Cleary said. “There was a point in the third quarter when we took that lead, then nothing. It was a long time.”
Serra was held without a point for 6:35.
“Our defense set the tone and got us some easy buckets in transition,” Moncrief said.
Serra rallied to get its deficit to 48-43 with less than a minute left, but it simply ran out of time.
“We battled back and started to get the momentum back again, and I saw the time just running out on us,” Cleary said. “We are picking ourselves up and going to try to get to Hershey now.”