For the first 24 games this season, the Blackhawk girls basketball team appeared untouchable. The Cougars won every game, beat opponents by an average of 27.5 points and captured first place in a hyper-competitive section that featured other top teams such as Hopewell and Central Valley.
Through it all, they remained perfect, something which many thought would continue through the WPIAL playoffs, right up until the moment when the team showed it was vulnerable.
Behind a cold-shooting performance, Blackhawk, the top-ranked team in Class AAA, was dealt its first loss of the season in a surprising, 78-64 defeat against Elizabeth Forward in the WPIAL semifinals.
A loss, particularly one that removes the possibility for a perfect season, is never something a coach or a team wants, and for the Cougars, it was something of a reminder that if they are not near their best, any game can bring about a setback.
And at a point in the year where a loss means the end of the season, it's a lesson that Blackhawk is making sure not to forget.
"It was more of a wake-up call," Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico said. "It's kind of hard to go through the year undefeated and then take a loss. We just weren't ready to go."
Elizabeth Forward, the No. 5 team in Class AAA with just two losses, was able to accomplish one of the prerequisites for an upset -- that is, getting off to a fast start. The Warriors led, 10-2, and then 19-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Most important, sophomore guard Chassidy Omogrosso, Blackhawk's leading scorer, was held to 2 of 17 shooting.
With the Cougars giving up 78 points (35.5 more than their season average), their shots went cold on a day when they could least afford for it to happen.
"We had a poor shooting night," Lodovico said. "Sometimes you're going to have that and when you have that and don't have the defense, you're going to lose."
Even with the loss, Blackhawk still qualifies for the PIAA playoffs, which will begin for the Cougars Saturday with a game at Bradford. The Owls have gone 21-2 this season and have held opponents to fewer than 40 points 13 times this season, but they haven't faced the same level of competition as Blackhawk has throughout the year.
Lodovico said that his team has responded well to the loss, noting that the players have remained positive and upbeat about their upcoming challenges, with the goal of a state title still firmly in mind.
"They'll be motivated for the next one," Lodovico said.
Coming up empty
Chartiers Valley had the rare opportunity last week to have both its boys and girls basketball teams win WPIAL titles in the same season. However, both teams came up short in their quest for the city's top high school basketball prize. On the boys side, the Colts fell short to Devin Wilson and Montour in the Class AAA championship game. Even in a losing effort, center Spencer Casson had a big game, scoring 18 points (14 of which came in the first half) and grabbing 10 rebounds. Playing in the girls Class AAAA championship game, Chartiers Valley struggled offensively against Bethel Park, shooting just 26.2 percent in a 48-34 loss. Guard Jenna Devinney led the Colts with nine points in the team's first WPIAL championship game appearance. The boys team begins the PIAA playoffs Friday with a game against Erie Strong Vincent at Baldwin, while the girls team has a first-round game against Allderdice at Carrick.
Bishop Canevin put a frustrating, eight-game losing streak to Seton-LaSalle in its rearview mirror, as the Crusaders defeated the Rebels, 56-47, to earn their first WPIAL title. The Crusaders shot 51 percent (20 of 39) from the field and made 50 percent (8 of 16) of their 3-point attempts. Seton-LaSalle had given up more points only twice this season. Bishop Canevin junior Johnie Olkosky was the unlikely star, tying a WPIAL girls championship game record with seven 3-pointers and scoring a game-high 26 points.
With many teams in both the West region and the WPIAL still playing postseason basketball, there is a large and conspicuous absence. In Class AA girls play, no team from the West region qualified for the PIAA playoffs.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com or Twitter: @craig_a_meyer