Fox Chapel girls earn playoff berth
O'HARA -- Fox Chapel's girls basketball team picked the right time to defeat rival Shaler for the first time since the teams were put in the same section two years ago.
Fox Chapel beat Shaler, 49-39, to clinch third place in Section 3-AAAA and a berth in the WPIAL playoffs.
"Before the game, I said, 'We had never beaten Shaler in our careers,' " Fox Chapel senior guard Lauren Cowher said. "The timing was pretty nice."
Fox Chapel improved to 9-5 in section and 15-8 overall, while Shaler slipped to 8-6 in the section.
Shaler needs Butler (8-5 in section) to lose to first-place New Castle (13-0) tonight to make the playoffs. Seneca Valley (10-4) has clinched second place.
"We always have a big rivalry with Shaler," Fox Chapel junior guard Catlyn Kriston said. "They've beaten us a lot the last couple of years. We owed them."
If Fox Chapel had lost last night -- combined with a New Castle loss -- the Lady Foxes would have missed the playoffs.
If Fox Chapel had lost -- combined with a New Castle victory -- the Lady Foxes would have made the cut for the playoffs as the fourth-place team.
Grimacing with determination as she drove to the hoop and fought for rebounds, Cowher scored a game-high 20 points.
Kriston made three 3-pointers, missing her season-high by one, and sank three foul shots after being fouled on a 3-point attempt in a 16-point effort.
Fox Chapel also out-rebounded Shaler, 24-17, even though the Lady Titans had the edge in height. Fox Chapel took advantage of a below -average shooting performance by Shaler.
Fox Chapel avenged a 56-41 loss Jan. 12 at Shaler.
"We handled their pressure better," Fox Chapel coach Jeremy Bennett said. "We didn't turn the ball over as much. And we attacked better. We didn't sit on our heels, and that opened things up."
Senior forward Jill DiNucci led Shaler with 14 points, and junior guard Melissa McQuade added 12.
"We shot about 22 or 23 percent," Shaler coach Eric Mozzetti said. "We missed our first four layups of the game. That set the tone all the way through. They just executed better than we did."
Fox Chapel took the lead in the second quarter and rolled the rest of the way.
The Lady Foxes seemed to come up with their best plays at the end of each quarter. For example, senior guard Carrie DeStout dropped in a reverse layup in the final seconds before halftime, giving her team a comfortable 24-17 lead.
"There are some things you can't draw up," Bennett said. "You have to react and make a play. They did that. That's part of the game."
Another big boost came in the third quarter. With Fox Chapel leading, 33-24, Kriston hit a 3-pointer. Then, Cowher stole the ball, put in a layup with a defender on her back, drew a foul and turned the score into a 3-point play.
"We were having fun tonight," Kriston said. "For once, we weren't playing from behind. It was a lot of fun."
Fox Chapel senior forward Bethany Thompson, one of the top players off the bench, injured her ankle late in the third quarter, but is expected to be available for the playoffs, according to Bennett.