North Catholic girls find silver lining
UNIVERSITY PARK -- They had the right plan to stop Steelton-Highspire's superstar -- executed it well, too. They had the motivation and tenacity to fight back from an early deficit. They had a willful group of seniors who didn't know how to quit.
The North Catholic girls basketball players simply ran out of gas.
Against the defending state champion Rollers, the Trojanettes (24-7) twice pulled within one possession in the waning minutes of the PIAA Class A final but couldn't get any closer in a 66-59 loss Saturday afternoon at Bryce Jordan Center.
And for the second time in three weeks, coach Molly Rottman had to address her team after a narrow championship defeat.
"It's all in perspective," said Rottman, whose team fell in the WPIAL final to Vincentian, 45-43, on March 3. "I have a tremendous group of girls. We don't want to take this ride with anyone else. ... We're one of the top two teams in the state. That's not too bad to go out that way."
The finale of the Trojanettes' season fittingly featured their biggest defensive challenge of the season -- reigning in prolific Rollers junior Malia Tate-DeFreitas.
Coming into the contest with 2,334 career points and the attention of top colleges, the 5-foot-8 point guard scored a team-high 18 points -- a total that was well below her season scoring average of 32.4. But even though North Catholic's double teams and pressure nudged Tate-DeFreitas to a 5-for-21 performance from the floor, she showed off other facets of her game, collecting nine assists and eight rebounds.
"That's the best defense we've seen, I would say," said Tate-DeFreitas, who committed nine turnovers. "They were shooting two guards at me. Even though I've seen that -- I practice that and knew it was going to happen -- there was something different."
Matching Tate-DeFreitas on the score sheet was Trojanettes junior Lauren Wolosik, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. But the Rollers received more secondary scoring, getting five 3-pointers and 17 points from Amber Hess-Moore and another pivotal 13 points inside from 6-foot forward Amber Anderson.
"Their role players stepped up huge today," Rottman said, "and that was a difference-maker."
At first, it seemed those players wouldn't be needed. Tate-DeFreitas made back-to-back 3-pointers in the first 37 seconds of the game, and the Rollers held a 22-14 lead after the first quarter.
That advantage grew to 10 points midway through the second, but North Catholic grew more aggressive on defense and fed off turnovers during a 13-4 run to tie the game, 31-31, by halftime.
"We have fight in us," Wolosik said. "We've been down before, and we've been up before. We knew we had to keep chugging away and cut the lead."
Steelton-Highspire (28-3) was clinging to a 47-45 lead entering the fourth quarter and was up by four with 3:43 remaining when Hess-Moore committed a technical foul following a personal. Wolosik and Angela Nowacki each hit only one of two free throws, though, and Hess-Moore would sink a 3-pointer shortly after to kick-start an 11-6 Rollers run to end the game.
"We had a lot of opportunities," Rottman said. "We accomplished our goal in holding (Tate-DeFreitas) under 20, but we let (Hess-Moore) get free a little bit, and she hurt us with the threes."