In the second quarter of last week's PIAA Class A girls semifinal game at Ambridge High, Vincentian Academy coach Ron Moncrief called timeouts as the gap between his Royals and North Catholic ballooned from seven to 12 points.
Finally, when he signaled a timeout with 3:02 remaining before halftime, the deficit was 18 points.
That's three timeouts.
"That's the first time this season I'd ever called three timeouts before halftime," said Moncrief, whose team lost to the Trojanettes, 71-58, to end the season at 28-2. "I was just trying to get my team refocused."
Halftime could not come quickly enough for Vincentian, which cut North Catholic's lead by six points in the third quarter and narrowed it to single digits three times in the fourth before the Trojanettes went on a 10-0 run for a 65-47 lead and put the game out of reach.
"I could see them struggling, and I know when to call a timeout and know when not to call one," Moncrief said. "I just think we should have started this game with a lot more urgency than we showed.
"That's what North Catholic had. They played this game the same way they played on their Senior Night [when a last-second layup by Tina Ferrari gave North Catholic a 45-43 victory]. We dug ourselves into a hole we couldn't get out of."
Those two losses were the only ones for the Royals, who defeated City League champion Allderdice, 78-61, WPIAL Class AAA playoff participant New Castle, 74-73, WPIAL Class AAAA playoff participant Gateway, 84-77, and North Catholic once in the regular season, 57-51, and in the WPIAL championship, 54-50, in which the Royals outscored the Trojanettes 20-6 in the final six minutes to wipe out a 10-point deficit.
The bitter taste of Vincentian's final defeat remains fresh for Moncrief and his players. Next season appears promising with two starters returning and his top two reserves ready to contend for starting roles after playing a significant amount of time this season.
The Royals' top returner is Brenna Wise, a legitimate Fabulous Five candidate after an outstanding freshman season in which she averaged just more than 18 points a game. Wise, a 6-0 freshman forward who jumps center, scored 13 of her team-leading 19 points in last week's season-ending loss to North Catholic.
"We set the bar high this season, and we're only losing two starters," Moncrief said. "They know what it takes to win, and with Brenna coming back, we're going to build on that foundation. Brenna is a great player who works hard in practice and in games. You don't see too many players with her intensity."
Also expected to start next season are cousins Abbey and Ally Bartoszewicz. Abbey is a 5-6 junior guard who started this season, and Ally is a 5-11 sophomore swing player who was one of Vincentian's first players off the bench.
"Abbey is a true point guard and a good leader," the coach said. "I am confident in her ability to lead us next year. She's a complete point guard who can also score. Her experience in starting every game this year will help us. She's ready to take the keys to the car and lead us to victories next year. With her at point guard, she'll lead us."
Ally is expected to help Wise with the Royals' inside game and step outside if necessary.
"Ally is an X factor for us," Moncrief said. "We can either put her down low or outside because she can take it to the hoop or shoot from the outside. We can put her anywhere, and she will be productive on the boards and with the way she shoots the ball."
Top reserves Imani Herring, a 6-2 sophomore center, and Danielle Melvin, a 5-11 junior forward, are likely to play bigger roles in 2012-13.
"They didn't play a lot, but I was encouraged when they were in there," the coach said. "Both girls will get the opportunity for a lot of playing time, and I expect them to work hard in the offseason. I see greater roles for both of them next year."
The Royals will lose three starters in Noreen Fischer, Ashlee Darby and Bridget Melvin. Senior Laura Primyon, who started a year ago before Wise joined the team, had her best performance of the season in the WPIAL championship game, firing four 3-point field goals in the fourth quarter to spark Vincentian's furious comeback against North Catholic.
Darby was a part-time starter as a freshman and remained in the Royals starting lineup for the rest of her career. Fischer joined Vincentian after two years at Oakland Catholic and started in her junior and senior seasons.
"Bridget [Melvin] didn't have a lot of stats, but she got a lot of rebounds and played a lot of good minutes," Moncrief said. "She took up a lot of space down low and in the paint."
Vincentian has won two WPIAL Class A titles in the past three seasons, and Moncrief regards those accomplishments as a building block.
"We [tied for] the section title and won the WPIAL championship," he said. "But we have a lot of unfinished business.
"The section and WPIAL titles are great, but we're going to be working very hard for a state championship next season. It won't be easy, but that will be our goal through the offseason and all next year."