When Blackhawk took a 14-point lead midway through the third quarter Tuesday night of a PIAA Class AAA semifinal, perhaps some thought that the Cougars had all but punched their tickets to the championship Saturday night at Giant Center in Hershey, Pa.
But no one on South Park believed it.
Making the most of a tenacious defense and some cold shooting on the part of the Cougars, the Eagles went on a 16-0 run that consumed the final four minutes of the second quarter and the first four minutes of the third to roar back into contention before outlasting the Cougars, 63-59.
South Park (27-2) meets Bethlehem Catholic for the Class AAA title. It's South Park's first trip to a PIAA basketball championship. Blackhawk finished 27-2.
"They were torching us," South Park coach Reggie Wells said of the Cougars. "They had us figured out, but we made an adjustment and the girls figured it out."
As has been the case all season, Shelby Lindsay and Halie Torris were South Park's leading scorers with 20 and 19 points, respectively. But the Eagles got balance from three players who scored eight points apiece: Breanna Raymond, Lindsey Noss and Allison McGrath.
Chassidy Omogrosso led the Cougars with 18 points and Alexis Graham added 17.
Noss was an effective zone-buster with two 3-pointers in the Eagles run, the second giving them the lead for good at 46-43 with two minutes left in the third quarter.
"She really stepped it up," Wells said of Noss. "We knew she had the ability and talent [to score], but she dedicated herself before the season and it paid off."
Noss said it was a matter of persistence paying off. "I just kept shooting and I had faith in myself," she said. "I wanted to do everything that I could."
Her teammates also were persistent as the Eagles whittled down the lead.
Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico praised South Park's tenacious defense. "They played hard and never quit. Our girls never quit. They went on a big run in the third quarter and they did all of the right things."
Lodovico said the Cougars made 179 3-point goals going into the game. But the Cougars made just two field goals from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter.
"We tell our girls that if you have an open look, shoot it," he said.
"But South Park plays a different type of defense with their 2-3 zone. They extend it and put more pressure on the guards. We did a pretty good job in the third quarter, getting the ball to the high post and some good looks for Graham. But we just couldn't get defensive stops. That's what it came down to."
The Cougars trailed by one, 48-47, at the outset of the fourth quarter. But the Eagles took a 59-54 lead with 2:35 left in the game as Noss fed Raymond with a nice pass for an uncontested layup.
South Park's presence also was felt on the boards, outrebounding the Cougars, 45-30.
"That's something we emphasize -- our rebounding," he said. "We made an adjustment to try to push out a little bit. Torris and Raymond were both monsters. They rebounded like the dickens."
For Wells, it will be true homecoming as he spent his high school years at Milton Hershey.
"I also went to the Police Academy there, so I'm going home," he said. "I'll call the school's administrators to see if I can get a practice."mobilehome - hsbasketball