As a Pennsylvania state trooper, South Park girls coach Reggie Wells deals with speeding tickets and traffic offenses all the time.
Saturday, his team's offense was scoring at an unusually slow pace, so the defense shifted into the fast lane and helped the Eagles blow past Elizabeth Forward to win the WPIAL Class AAA girls title.
South Park forced Elizabeth Forward into a dismal shooting performance and a season-low points total, as the Eagles beat the Warriors, 50-32, in the championship at Palumbo Center.
It's the third WPIAL championship for South Park (23-2), the No. 3 seed, which also won titles in 1998 and 2008. No. 5 Elizabeth Forward (23-3) was trying to win its second title and first since 1975.
South Park shot 35 percent (20 for 57) from the field and scored its fewest points since its last loss Jan. 19, this after shooting 51 percent in a 75-55 victory against Hopewell in the semifinals.
Every good team is bound to have a rough shooting game, and South Park picked a good time to do it. Elizabeth Forward made just 23 percent of its shots (11 of 46) and went through several long scoring droughts.
"We have to hang our hat on our defense because there will be days like that when we're not scoring well," Wells said.
Halie Torris and Allison McGrath led a balanced South Park offense with 13 points apiece. Breanna Raymond had 11 and Shelby Lindsay 8.
Elizabeth Forward stunned No. 1 and previously undefeated Blackhawk, 78-64, in the semifinals Wednesday, but the red-hot offense the Warriors displayed in that game turned ice cold against South Park.
"We weren't shooting well and we didn't establish any type of tempo offensively," said Elizabeth Forward coach Sam Kosanovich, whose team lost to South Park, 60-35 in the regular-season finale.
South Park limited Elizabeth Forward to five field goals in the first half on its way to a 30-11 lead. After Elizabeth Forward's Dana Buck made a 3-pointer to put the Warriors ahead, 5-4, with 5:05 left in the first quarter, the Warriors went nearly five minutes without scoring. During that time, South Park went on an 11-0 run to take a 15-5 lead. Elizabeth Forward failed to score in the final 4:06 of the second quarter.
"We knew we just had to play 10 times harder than we have been on defense," Torris said. "We knew if we played good defense, we'd have a good chance to win."
South Park went more than five minutes without scoring in the third quarter, but still led by 19 heading into the fourth.
"It was really nail-biting time, but I don't have any nails," Wells said, smiling.
South Park's lead grew to as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles outrebounded Elizabeth Forward, 49-36. McGrath pulled down 11 rebounds, Raymond had 10 and Torris chipped in 9.
"One of our biggest focuses was rebounding," said Lindsay.
Buck led Elizabeth Forward with nine points. Alison Pastore and Natalie Fekula combined to score six points after tallying 41 in the semifinals.
The outcome was a stark contrast from the title game last season which South Park lost against Hopewell, 50-34. After beating nemesis Hopewell in the semifinals, Wells said he was happy to see his team didn't give a flat performance against Elizabeth Forward.
"To get through Hopewell and finally break through, that was big," Wells said, "but we didn't want a letdown today."
South Park and Elizabeth Forward begin PIAA tournament play next Saturday. South Park will face District 10 third-place finisher Hickory (21-4). Elizabeth Forward will face Central Valley (18-5).
First Published March 3, 2013 5:15 AM