Oakland Catholic, Bulger returning to Hershey
Oakland Catholic senior guard Meg Bulger gave up chocolate for Lent, but she insisted on making her fourth consecutive trip to Hershey.
Bulger scored 11 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter, as Oakland Catholic pulled away for a 63-55 victory over State College on Tuesday in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals at Pitt-Johnstown.
"It's unbelievable," Bulger said. "I don't usually show emotion, but I was waving my arms and cheering (at the end). The last couple games, we really started as a team to pick it up. Tonight was definitely by far our best game collectively."
"It's great," Oakland Catholic coach Suzie McConnell Serio said. "I'm so proud of this team."
Oakland Catholic will play in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game 6 p.m. Friday at the Giant Center in Hershey against the winner of yesterday's Eastern final between Council Rock (27-5) and Downingtown (25-6).
Oakland Catholic (27-5) earned its place in the final by adjusting to the sagging defense of State College (26-3). The Eagles had dominated the last two meetings of these teams inside, including a 69-53 Oakland Catholic victory Jan. 31 where sophomore forward Eve Pyle had 26 points and 24 rebounds.
"Oakland Catholic just shot the lights out," State College coach Bethany Irwin said. "Our goal was to stop their inside game down because that's what was killing us every time we played them. My kids did an excellent job (on that, but) their perimeter players stepped up and did a nice job."
Oakland Catholic made five 3-pointers in the first quarter. Sophomore point guard Brianne O'Rourke made three of them and four of her five 3-pointers in the first half, including one on which she was fouled for a four-point play in the second quarter.
"Scoring isn't my key," O'Rourke said. "I'm a point guard. But it was there."
"The player that came in with the mindset of refuse to lose was Brianne O'Rourke," McConnell Serio said. "She was tremendous tonight. State College came into tonight knowing we had dominated in the post the last two meetings. They did a great job doubling down.
"Brianne hit her first three threes and gave us confidence, gave us the lead. She took the pressure off of everybody else, wondering where was the scoring coming from if it wasn't coming from inside."
Oakland Catholic also got 10 points for sophomore reserve guard Sarah Bucar. Pyle had only four points, but pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked three shots.
Oakland Catholic led by as many as 11 in the first half and never trailed. The last tie was 6-6 with five minutes left in the first quarter.
"It's huge," Bulger said of never losing the lead. "We've been talking about that lately. We lost lead three times against Upper St. Clair (in the WPIAL title game loss). Once you get a team by one point or 10 points, you really have to put them away."
Oakland Catholic struggled to do that because of State College's pressure defense, which forced 23 turnovers. That defense sparked an 8-0 third-quarter run that pulled the Lady Little Lions within two at 41-39 with 3:28 remaining in the third quarter.
"We didn't take care of the ball like I wanted," McConnell Serio said. "I would have liked to put them away earlier, but you have to give credit to State College's defense.
"When we needed it, our team responded."
Freshman Aysha Jones broke the string with a basket inside. Oakland Catholic got the rebound to set up a basket by Bulger that pushed the lead back up to 45-39.
Oakland Catholic scored the first five points of the fourth quarter on a Bulger's layup off a steal and a 3-pointer by Bucar, and State College never got the lead under four the rest of the way. Bulger hit four key free throws in the final minute.
"Down the stretch, they played the way I wanted defensively, refusing to lose," McConnell Serio said.