Elizabeth Forward, Mt. Pleasant set for rematch in PIAA playoffs
On Jan. 15, in a WPIAL nonsection girls basketball game, Elizabeth Forward led visiting Mt. Pleasant by a single point inside the 3-minute mark of the fourth quarter. The host Warriors wound up winning by 12.
Fast-forward to the PIAA playoffs at Fox Chapel, where both teams were still alive in the Class AAA bracket heading into Wednesday night's second-round rematch of that regular-season game.
Only this time, Mt. Pleasant (16-9) will be without leading scorer Alexa Szelong (18.5 ppg.), who is recovering from knee surgery last week that sidelined her for the Vikings' 58-51 overtime victory over District 6 Huntingdon in the first round.
“The one thing you don't want to do is underestimate them because they're minus their leading scorer,” Elizabeth Forward coach Sam Kosanovich said. “They went out and won their last game without her, and they beat a district champion in doing it.”
A healthy Elizabeth Forward (21-4) also advanced Saturday by beating a district champion, as the Warriors routed District 9 Bradford 52-30.
Now they're hoping to take things a step further than last year, when they were soundly beaten in the second round by District 10 champion Franklin, which rolled to its 19th consecutive victory, 65-45.
“We're a very humble team,” Kosanovich said. “We just approach a game with the hope of having an opportunity to win it at the end. And if we are fortunate to do it, as we were in our last game, we don't celebrate to make a spectacle out of it.”
But the Warriors aren't wishing for anything less than succeeding Wednesday night. They rode senior forward Natalie Fakula's double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds and junior forward Olivia Barkey's 15 points in the victory over Bradford.
Another second-round girls game Wednesday night matches Serra Catholic (24-3) against District 6 Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic (21-5) in the Class A bracket at Johnstown Richland High School.
Serra Catholic defeated District 10 Cochranton 60-52, and Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic dumped District 9 Venango Catholic, 49-40, in the first round.
With a rematch upcoming, Elizabeth Forward remembered how it survived in the closing minutes of that 57-45 victory over Mt. Pleasant on Jan. 15, holding Szelong to 12 points — or more than six below her average.
Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi wasn't making any excuses for the loss of his team's top scorer at a critical point in the season. After all, the Vikings still were playing.
Szelong played with an ailing knee for much of the regular season and into the playoffs but finally was forced to sit during Mt. Pleasant's 69-48 loss to Blackhawk in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Senior guard Elaina Fearer scored 19 points, and sophomore guard Morgan Barlock added 16 against Huntingdon. Sophomore forward Katie Biller had nine points and team-leading 11 rebounds.
“Anything can happen at any time,” Giacobbi said. “We try to take a balanced approach. Our style of play isn't predicated on a certain player, a certain place or a certain time. We'll just keep it going with a different mix of personnel. We've gotten strong contributions from a lot of our girls.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.