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Seton-La Salle girls cruise past Blairsville

| Friday, March 7, 2014, 8:15 p.m.
Blairsville's Chelsey Koren (33) gets fouled by Seton-LaSalle's Nicolete Newman (5) as Yacine Diop (24) jumps to block the ball during the PIAA Class AA playoff game Friday, March 7, 2014 at Chartiers Valley High School.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Blairsville's Chelsey Koren (33) gets fouled by Seton-LaSalle's Nicolete Newman (5) as Yacine Diop (24) jumps to block the ball during the PIAA Class AA playoff game Friday, March 7, 2014 at Chartiers Valley High School.

From Day 1, Seton-La Salle has been on a mission to avenge last season's big-game disappointments.

The Rebels completed the first step a week ago, winning the WPIAL Class AA Championship, 55-34, over Burrell.

In the PIAA Class AA first round Friday at Chartiers Valley, Seton-La Salle continued its quest for state dominance, defeating Blairsville, 58-37.

“They're really focused,” Rebels Spencer Stefko said. “They understand that it's a challenge. Blairsville doesn't care that you just won the WPIAL championship.”

After a relatively low-scoring first quarter, the Rebels (23-4) used a 9-0 run to start the second to build a 20-7 lead, which grew to 30-14 by halftime.

“It was just us getting used to the game and making some shots,” Stefko said.

“We did that in the second quarter, and I think we were able to put some pressure on them.”

Blairsville (23-3) couldn't build any momentum as Seton-La Salle's defense forced the Bobcats into uncharacteristic turnovers and adjusted to the zone defense used in hope of slowing the Rebels' high-powered offense.

“We played man (defense) almost all the time, but we knew we couldn't match,” Blairsville coach Ralph McGinnis said. “We played our zone, pushed them out a little bit, and they hit some threes.”

“They worked it well. We were oversized, and there's nothing we could do about that.”

Seton-La Salle all-everything senior Naje Gibson missed the game because of undisclosed prior engagements. In her absence, junior Nicolete Newman scored a game-high 18 points, including four 3-pointers, and Yacine Diop also had 18 points and eight rebounds, taking control of the paint in the second half. Cassidy Walsh added 11 points.

“In the second half, I just refocused,” Diop said. “I started playing my game.”

Chelsey Koren led Blairsville with 18 points as Laurel O'Barto added 11.

The Rebels will play Greensburg Central Catholic (20-5) in the second round Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.

“The WPIAL (championship) is already past,” Diop said. “Now we got to focus on the big one, which is the state (championship). We have to keep working hard.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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