East Xtra: Oakland Catholic goes cold at bad time, settles for silver

PIAA BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For a team that shot down opponents left and right this season, Oakland Catholic couldn't make a shot in a game that would have crowned the Eagles the top Class AAAA team in the state.

But for a group that was shooting for big goals, a final misfire wasn't enough to take away from what was yet another outstanding season from what has traditionally been one of the premier programs in Western Pennsylvania if not the entire state.

Plagued by a poor shooting touch and less-than-stellar performance from a normally staunch defense, Oakland Catholic was defeated by Archbishop Carroll, 56-37, in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game last Friday night at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.

Although the Eagles (28-3) had to settle for silver instead of gold, coach Shannon Boyle said her team should be proud of accomplishing so much on a path that traveled them around Western Pennsylvania to Atlanta for a holiday tournament, Central Pennsylvania for PIAA tournament games, and eventually to Penn State.

"Of course they wanted to come out with a gold medal, but at the same time they knew that only two girls teams in the state made it this far, and we absolutely have to celebrate the journey and be happy with all the hundreds of accomplishments that got us here today," said Boyle, who was a starter on the 2000 Oakland Catholic team that also lost in the PIAA championship game.

This Oakland Catholic team was in search of the fifth PIAA title in school history, but its offense was nowhere to be found.

"We hoped we could go out and keep the game close, but our offense really struggled.," Boyle said.

Against District 12 champion Archbishop Carroll (29-2), the WPIAL runner-up Eagles shot just 27 percent from the field (12 of 44) while matching their season low in points. They made 4 of 16 shots in the first half and 8 of 28 in the second half.

Of course, what hurt Oakland Catholic the most was an 11-minute, 12-second span in the first half when the Eagles did not make a field goal and were outscored, 18-1. Playing in a game in which the Eagles were ahead, 9-6, they quickly found themselves behind, 24-10. Rachel Vigliotti made a 3-pointer with five seconds left in the half to end the drought and bring the Eagles within 24-13 at the break.

"It was extremely frustrating," Oakland Catholic senior guard Bobbi Baker said of the shooting woes.

The slump continued in the second half, and before the Eagles knew it, they trailed by 26 points.

What had to be almost as tough to swallow for Oakland Catholic was that its defense had one of its worst showings of the season. The Eagles had leaned on their defense since Game 1, finishing the season with the top scoring defense in Class AAAA at 36 points per game. The Eagles had held each of their previous four PIAA opponents to 39 points or fewer. Archbishop Carroll's point total was the third-most the Eagles surrendered all season.

"We just played solid the whole time," said Archbishop Carroll coach Chuck Creighton. "We shot the ball really well. Our kids came to play."

Experience might have played a part in the outcome just a bit, too. Archbishop Carroll was playing in its third PIAA championship game in four years.

"Absolutely," Boyle said. "It was something we had never experienced before."

That's one of the things that made the season such a special one for the Eagles, who went undefeated in Section 3 and didn't lose its first game until Feb. 11, the regular-season finale against undefeated Seton-LaSalle.

"It's the best-case scenario for a senior year," Baker said. "Not just the games. We really developed as a family. I love my team more than anything, so it's really going to be hard to leave."

Baker was one of seven seniors, and all played significant roles. The group included Vigliotti, Jess Mrdjenovich, Corey Taglianetti, Audra Phibbs, Chrissy Beranato and Iffie Uwazie.

Boyle said she could not be any prouder of her team and the heights to which it ascended.

"They're a very special team," said Boyle. "Win or lose, nothing changes."



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