Brentwood girls' perseverance prevails in preliminary-round win
It had been 11 years since a Brentwood girls' basketball team qualified for the WPIAL playoffs.
But it didn't stop the Lady Spartans from attaining their first playoff win in more than a decade.
Brentwood defeated Freedom last week in the WPIAL Class AA preliminary round, 49-45, thanks to a impressive come-from-behind effort in the fourth quarter.
“Our team came prepared to win,” said Rachel Thomas, Brentwood's first-year head coach. “Although we slipped a little in the second half, we kept our composure and fought back to win. I am very proud of these girls.
“Each player stepped up when they had to. Not one player on this roster has experience with high school playoffs. Even though we approach each game the same, playoffs are a different pace and atmosphere. To win (in) the preliminary round has been a boost of energy for our team and our program.”
The playoff victory also was the first for Thomas as the team's floor boss.
“The players ultimately deserve the credit for the win,” Thomas said. “However, without the support of the coaches, the fans and school district, it would be very difficult. We have struggled to compete in recent years; to be in this year's playoffs has been an honor.”
Eight girls reached the scoring column for Brentwood, led by 6-foot senior center Laura McGowan's game-high 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Hannah Livingston, a freshman guard, added nine points for the Lady Spartans, including seven in the second half.
The other 20 points were distributed among sophomore guard Alecia Folino, senior guard/forward Sydney Bauer, freshman guard Molly Huffman, freshman forward Stephanie Thomas, sophomore forward Nicole Zdrojewski and freshman guard Emma Betz.
The Lady Spartans, after a nervous start in the game's opening minutes, secured a 23-14 halftime advantage.
“This team has no experience in high school playoffs; playoff jitters were definitely present,” Thomas said. “I suspect the first few turnovers could have been blamed on playoff nerves. They quickly refocused and found their momentum.”
A sizzling 17-0 run — which included five 3-pointers — propelled Freedom to a 31-23 advantage late in the third quarter.
“Freedom made some adjustments and exploited our comfort zone,” Thomas said.
“We gave Freedom too many opportunities and it almost cost us the game.”
Brentwood wasn't able to go back in front until McGowan, off a Livingston assist, made it a 37-36 score with 4:17 to go.
The Lady Spartans rattled off 10 consecutive points to gain a nine-point cushion with two minutes remaining.
Huffman and Folino then iced the decision from the free-throw line.
“With several players in foul trouble, we had to re-think our strategy while keeping pressure on Freedom's shooters,” Thomas said. “We needed to curb their momentum and play our brand of basketball. Our bench players stepped in beautifully and answered that call.”
A key to the win was the perseverance displayed by the Brentwood hoopsters.
“These players understand the value of hard work,” Thomas said. “Freedom has a number of talented players. When they came out hot in the second half, we had to make adjustments and not panic.”
Plagued by foul troubles, Brentwood's lineup in the final minute consisted of one senior (Bauer), one sophomore (Folino) and three freshmen in Huffman, Livingston and Betz.
“These young women have the abilities to compete at a high level. I am not surprised our young players were able to step in and bring home a victory. They are the future of this program,” Thomas said.
“I have high expectations for all of our underclassmen. Expect to see this team in the playoffs for many years to follow.”
Brentwood improved to 15-6 with the win. Freedom dropped to 10-13.
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.