Seton-La Salle girls win another state title
HERSHEY — For the first time since grade school, Seton-La Salle's Nicolette Newman felt like a championship underdog.
But that certainly didn't last.
Newman scored 17 points with six clutch fourth-quarter free throws, Yacine Diop had 23 rebounds, and Seton-La Salle won its second state title in three years with a 58-50 victory Friday over Neumann-Goretti in the PIAA Class AA title game at Giant Center.
Philadelphia's Neumann-Goretti (29-1) was an unbeaten District 12 champion and hadn't lost since last March. So for the first time this postseason, WPIAL champion Seton-La Salle (27-4) wasn't the clear favorite.
“We felt it as soon as we walked out,” said Newman, a junior who hadn't considered herself an underdog since she and teammate Cassidy Walsh were winning grade school titles at St. Gabriel's. “We knew Neumann-Goretti was a really good team. It was definitely a good feeling to (win as) the underdog.”
Walsh had 11 points and Seton-La Salle remained perfect in PIAA finals. The Rebels won the Class AA title in 2012 with Walsh as a freshman and won Class AAAA in 1984.
“That's a testament to kids believing that they could beat a 29-0 team and relishing the underdog role,” Seton coach Spencer Stefko said.
This was Stefko's first season with the Rebels, who've had three head coaches in three years.
“I really feel like I'm along for the ride,” said Stefko, who previously coached Chartiers Valley. “For me to stand here and act like this was my team would be a lie. This is Seton's team.”
This also was Diop's first season. A Senegal native, Diop was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. Along with nearly two dozen rebounds, the 6-foot senior had 10 points and six blocks.
“It feels really, really good because I was dreaming about it,” said Diop, a Pitt recruit. “My first and last year playing, I had to get the ring (as) state champion.”
Seton-La Salle played like favorites and built a 14-point second-half lead. It dwindled until the Rebels trailed 46-44 with 4:30 left, but Neumann-Goretti led for little more than a minute. With two free throws by senior Naje Gibson and a go-ahead basket by Walsh, Seton was ahead 48-46.
“We were fighting to stay in,” Neumann-Goretti coach Letty Santarelli said. “It showed a lot of character and composure on our end. We're just not used to trailing.”
Seton-La Salle clinched the win with free throws. The Rebels were 12 of 16 from the line in the fourth quarter, when Newman made 6 of 7, Walsh was 4 for 4 and Gibson was 2 for 2. Overall, the team made 15 of 23.
“All year there have been games where we make (free throws) and games where we don't,” Stefko said. “The kids haven't let that become a mental thing. We knew that when it mattered we'd make them.”
Emmanuella Awobajo led Neumann-Goretti with 13 points, and Ciani Cryor had 12, but both fouled out in the fourth quarter. A third starter, Tanesha Sutton, also fouled out. The Saints made just 5 of 30 from the 3-point arc.
Seton-La Salle started well and led 10-3. When Neumann-Goretti forced a 10-10 tie, the Rebels responded with a 12-2 run. Seton led 22-12 after a second-quarter basket by Shaunay Edmonds. Seton led 28-21 at halftime. The Rebels' lead peaked at 37-23 with 6:40 left in the third.
“If they had come out with a lead, our attitudes would have been way different,” Newman said. “They're a great team, but we knew we had it.”