Trib Cup: South Park girls hoping to take next step in PIAA playoffs
For the second consecutive year, South Park is among the final eight Class AAA girls basketball teams still playing across Pennsylvania.
The Eagles are PIAA quarterfinalists once more, helping improve the school's position in the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award Class AAA standings. South Park is in sixth place, vaulted by the girls basketball team's WPIAL championship.
The Eagles (25-2) will play District 10 champion Franklin (26-1) in a PIAA quarterfinal game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny. Last season, they lost in this round, 59-56, to eventual champion Archbishop Wood.
“We've worked hard to get ourselves back into the same position we were in last year,” Eagles coach Reggie Wells said. “And hopefully, now that we've got another shot at it, we'll do a better job than last year. Everybody wants to get another chance like this. It's an honor to be in this position.”
Although the PIAA quarterfinals has been relatively unchartered territory for South Park in recent years, being among the WPIAL elite is not.
The Eagles have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs eight consecutive years, playing in the WPIAL championship game half of those occasions and winning the title twice. South Park is a PIAA tournament qualifier for the fourth time in the past six seasons.
The most recent two WPIAL titles for South Park came five years apart — meaning two entirely different groups of players were champions. Only one graduating class in a nine-year span will not be part of a WPIAL championship.
“It starts with the caliber of athletes that are coming out,” Wells said. “We've had some good ballplayers, and when they're younger, they see the job the players who are playing in front of them are doing.
“Plus, we've got some good younger coaches who put in the time with young kids. By the time they get (to the varsity level), a lot of them are ready to make the transition — it's a different story many places. But mostly, we really have a lot of talent in this area, to be honest with you.”
Senior guard Shelby Lindsay has been a key part of the Eagles' success, but she deflects much of the credit for the strength of the South Park program to Wells.
“He is an excellent coach, and what helps is he's passionate about it,” said Lindsay, who's been the Eagles leading scorer during each of their PIAA playoff victories. “It's not just X's and O's. ... He cares so much about taking every game personally and playing as hard as you can. That's rubbed off on all his teams.
“We work hard and have such great chemistry and are so close as teammates — and I know he's played a huge part in that.”
In attempting to lead a South Park basketball team to a PIAA semifinal for the first time since 1998, Wells will run into an old adversary. The 1998 South Park team he coached to within one game of the PIAA title game was the Eagles' boys team. Franklin's coach, Bill Hager, also formerly was a highly successful boys coach at his school.
“I know the style they'll play — gritty, hard-nosed, shoot the ball well, and they're going to attack you,” Wells said of Franklin soon after a 50-46 win against Hopewell Wednesday.
“You know that coming in before I watch film. They'll emulate their coach. It's going to be a tough one, a test, that's for sure.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.