Seton-La Salle girls open early lead to down Burrell; return to PIAA title game
As is the we-meet-again nature of the PIAA basketball playoffs, teams almost always get rematches with opponents they lost to in the district tournament.
And whether teams love it or hate it, it's a part of postseason tradition that offers second chances.
Such was the case with Burrell, which got another chance at high-powered Seton-La Salle, the team that it couldn't overcome in the WPIAL finals. But just like the first meeting, Seton-La Salle was too strong as it overtook Burrell, 48-37, in the PIAA Class AA semifinals Tuesday at North Allegheny.
Seton-La Salle advances to play District 12 champ Neumann-Goretti (29-0) in the PIAA championship at noon Friday in Hershey.
Seton-La Salle has reached the finals two of the past three years. The Rebels won the championship two years ago, finishing 30-0. They'll go for state title No. 3 overall.
Neumann-Goretti, Seton-La Salle and Burrell were 1-2-3 in the Class AA state rankings all season.
While the postgame setting was business as usual for Seton-La Salle, the locker room was an emotional one for Burrell (28-2), players and coaches' eyes tearful moments after the team's finest season came to a close.
Burrell never had been this far, breaking the school record for wins and making the WPIAL finals for the first time.
“You dream about having that kind of team dynamic,” Burrell coach Meghan Ziemianski said. “You can't be upset with what we did. The girls are just upset because of the finality of it all.”
Seton-La Salle (26-4) never trailed Tuesday, building a 19-5 advantage after the first quarter and maintaining the double-digit lead throughout with up-close-and-personal pressure defense. After forcing 25 turnovers in a 55-34 win over Burrell in the WPIAL title game, the Rebels forced 20 this time.
“We had to play strong on both ends of the floor,” Rebels first-year coach Spencer Stefko said. “We knew this was a team we could beat but a team that was going to play better this time, and I'm proud of how we were prepared that way.”
Burrell could take solace in the fact that it outrebounded the Rebels, 21-17.
The Rebels connected on five first-half 3-pointers to build a 31-17 lead.
Senior guard Yacine Diop scored a game-high 20 points, and junior Cassidy Walsh added 15. Both are Pitt recruits, along with teammate Naje Gibson, a senior guard.
Diop led the defensive effort, face-guarding Burrell standout sophomore Natalie Myers and holding Myers to seven points, all in the second half. It was as if Diop followed Myers wherever she went.
“They are just so athletic,” Ziemianski said. “They outexecuted us.”
Burrell changed the game's pace, but Seton-La Salle played well in halfcourt compared to a faster-paced attack in the WPIAL final. And that was on both ends of the floor. Burrell managed to run some offensive sets but did so in a jittery fashion.
“We didn't panic, but we really never got on that big run,” said Burrell junior point guard Sydney Bordonaro, a Pepperdine recruit who scored a team-high 17 points.
Burrell made a mild push early in the third quarter. Myers and Bordonaro hit 3-pointers to cut it to 35-23, but Walsh scored on a backdoor cut, taking a soft pass from sophomore guard Shaunay Edmonds. Then Edmonds took a steal in for a layup to get the margin back to 16.
A 7-0 run afforded the Rebels their largest lead at 46-25.
“We did a nice job staying in their passing lanes and anticipating some passes and reading, and just having good players,” Stefko said.
Burrell ended the game on an 8-0 run but was too far behind to make any serious headway. Seton-La Salle scored only four points in the fourth, but that was a product of wanting to run off time.
“We executed better (this time), but you could see the nerves kick in,” Ziemianski said. “We did some good things, but it was too little, too late.
“We can't be too mad. We were the best public-school team in the state.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.