Ciara Gregory was a freshman when she calmly sank the winning free throws in the closing minute to help Jeannette defeat Seton-LaSalle in the WPIAL Class AA championship game in 2010.
Now a senior, Gregory will try to extinguish Seton-LaSalle's WPIAL title dreams one more time.
When top-seed Seton-LaSalle (23-1) and No. 5 Jeannette (17-6) meet in a Class AA semifinal tonight at North Hills High School, it will be a matchup of one of the WPIAL's best teams and one of its premier players.
"We have to play a perfect game to beat them," Gregory said.
Gregory is the leading scorer in the WPIAL, averaging 31 points per game. She scored 76 points in two playoff games, tallying 41 against Steel Valley in the first round and 35 against Deer Lakes in the quarterfinals. Jeannette played Seton-LaSalle twice in Gregory's career. The Jayhawks edged Seton-LaSalle, 39-36, in the 2010 championship game, but the Rebels got revenge courtesy of a 74-29 win in the 2011 title game.
Seton-LaSalle is the two-time defending champion. The Rebels, led by Naje Gibson and Angela Heintz, have won their past 11 postseason games and own a 65-game winning streak against WPIAL opponents.
No. 2 Bishop Canevin (20-4) and No. 3 Burrell (22-2) meet in the other semifinal at Moon. Burrell has not been to the semifinals since 1994. Both teams lean on outstanding defenses. Burrell allows only 27.5 points per game, the top mark in the WPIAL. Bishop Canevin (32.7) ranks No. 4 in Class AA.
For the second year in a row, a trio of Section 4 teams are in the semifinals, but it's the fourth team that believes it might have the inside track to winning the WPIAL title.
Section 2 co-champion Gateway (20-4), the No. 7 seed, plays No. 3 Bethel Park (21-3) tonight at Keystone Oaks. Gateway used its 2-3 zone defense to knock off No. 2 North Allegheny, 50-43, in the quarterfinals. The Gators are athletic, have good size and are an excellent rebounding team.
"I think we have an advantage," Gateway coach Cornelius Nesbit said. "[The Section 4 teams] don't know us as well as they know each other. We play a different style of basketball that they're not used to seeing."
Defending champion and No. 1 seed Mt. Lebanon (22-2) will try to take down No. 5 Chartiers Valley (18-6) for the third time this season when the two meet at North Allegheny. Mt. Lebanon won the two regular-season meetings, 48-45 and 49-40. The Blue Devils are in the semifinals for the sixth year in a row and are looking to reach their fifth consecutive final.
Hopewell has been a thorn in South Park's side in recent years, but the No. 3 Eagles will get another shot at the No. 2 Vikings Wednesday at West Allegheny. South Park (21-2) has lost five games against WPIAL teams dating to February 2011, and four of the defeats have been against Hopewell (21-3), the most important being in the championship game a year ago. Hopewell also defeated South Park in the first round the previous season.
"We look forward to it," South Park coach Reggie Wells said. "They've been bumping us out the last couple times. We have to change something. It's up to us to do it ourselves. We're not trying to get anybody else to do it. We wouldn't want it any other way."
Top-seed Blackhawk (24-0) will square off against No. 5 Elizabeth Forward (22-2) in the other semifinal. Elizabeth Forward is in the semifinals for the first time since 1990. Blackhawk, on the other hand, is making its third semifinal appearance in a row. The Cougars are the lone undefeated team in the WPIAL.
No. 1 seed Vincentian (23-1) has been the top-ranked team since the preseason and hopes to remain that way by beating No. 4 Quigley (18-5) Wednesday at Keystone Oaks. Vincentian's only blemish this season came against Gateway. All but three of the Royals' wins have been by double digits. Vincentian defeated North Catholic in the final a year ago. Quigley, which previously made the semifinals in 2010, won its first two playoff games by 43 and 29 points.
North Catholic, the No. 3 seed, is no stranger to semifinal games, this being its fifth consecutive appearance. The Trojanettes (15-9) moved on to the championship in each of the past four seasons. To get there again, they will need to get by No. 2 Serra (22-2), which has not made it this far since 2006. The Eagles have won nine games in a row and own the top scoring offense (67.9 points per game) and defense (35.7) in Class A.