South Xtra: Loss in PIAA playoffs still stings

GIRLS BASKETBALL

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There will be a time when the Mt. Lebanon players and coaches can look back and appreciate a 24-win season and a sixth consecutive Class AAAA Section 4 title.

That time is not this week.

The Blue Devils remain devastated by a pair of postseason losses to section rival Chartiers Valley that denied them a trip to the WPIAL or PIAA finals.

Mt. Lebanon's season came to an end last Friday after a 48-37 loss to Chartiers Valley in the PIAA quarterfinals.

This season marked the first time Mt. Lebanon did not win either a WPIAL or PIAA title since 2008. It marked the first time they failed to reach a WPIAL or PIAA final since 2007.

In the past six years coach Dori Oldaker has guided the Blue Devils to three PIAA titles and three WPIAL titles. Very few WPIAL programs in any sport can claim to have the kind of expectations that surround Oldaker's program.

"We lost," Oldaker said on Monday, less than 72 hours after the defeat against Chartiers Valley. "We are still kind of devastated."

Oldaker and her players had their exit interviews on Monday and the players turned in their uniforms.

"It is a little too soon to reminisce about the season," Oldaker said. "We are still disappointed."

The exit interviews were a farewell for a senior class that included starters, guard Alex Ventrone and forward Jordan Holmes.

Mt. Lebanon finished the season 24-4. It's only losses were to Seton-LaSalle, Bethel Park and Chartiers Valley.

It dropped its third section game of the season, a 60-54 decision at Bethel Park. With the way the Black Hawks were playing, Mt. Lebanon's streak of five consecutive section titles seemed to be in danger. But the Blue Devils regrouped, winning their final eight section games including a 14-point win against Bethel Park to not only continue the streak but to win the Class AAAA Section 4 title outright.

The section was hands down the best in the WPIAL. It produced three WPIAL semifinalists, including WPIAL champion Bethel Park and two PIAA quarterfinalists.

"We lost that one game in January and came back and won the rest of the games," Oldaker said. "That showed a lot about our team and the ability to improve. Absolutely without a doubt our section was one of the toughest sections."

Mt. Lebanon swept Chartiers Valley in the regular season, but it was unable to solve the Colts in the playoffs, losing to them one game away from the A.J. Palumbo Center and two games away from Hershey's Giant Center.

"Of course we wanted to go further and reach higher goals," Oldaker said. "We have high expectations. We want to continue to try and reach our goals."

After its WPIAL semifinal loss, Mt. Lebanon had a 10-day layoff before the PIAA playoffs. It played WPIAL champion Bethel Park in the first round.

"It was unfortunate we had to play each other in the first round of the state playoffs," Oldaker said. "I don't think that was fair. We were pretty hungry for that game and extremely prepared."

The returning starters back next season for the Blue Devils are junior guard Margie McCaffrey, junior guard/forward Madeleine Collins and junior forward Christine Ehland. Ventrone and Ehland were the top scorers in a balanced lineup this season averaging 11 points per game each. Ehland was Mt. Lebanon's go-to post player. She scored 16 in the PIAA quarterfinal loss to Chartiers Valley.

"A lot of people didn't expect us to go as far as we did," Ventrone said. "I think we just believed in ourselves.

"The bar is raised so high here, we expect every year to do our best. Section titles is not what we go for, the season didn't end on a great note but we are happy with how we performed."

hsbasketball


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