Section champions. WPIAL champions. PIAA champions.
The 2012-13 season was a golden one for the South Park girls basketball team.
Fast forward to this season, and the Eagles found themselves with a 6-4 record on Jan. 3 after dropping consecutive games. By most standards, that's nothing to be too upset about. But for a group that set the bar for success incredibly high last season when they finished 28-2, seeing that loss total double in less than a month led to some frustration.
"I think they were [frustrated] in a sense because they weren't winning like they had been," South Park coach Reggie Wells said. "The reality set in that 'Hey, we have to keep getting better.'"
The Eagles have not lost since, and the reality is that this team appears capable of matching last season's feats.
South Park (13-4, 9-1) is in the driver's seat to capture the Class AAA Section 5 title. It would be the program's fourth section championship in a row. Before last night's game between Trinity and Montour, the Eagles had one fewer loss than second-place Trinity (13-4, 7-2). Monday, the Eagles avenged their lone section loss when they defeated Moon Area, 71-56. The Tigers had ended South Park's 31-game section win streak Jan. 3.
Since that loss, South Park has been excellent. The Eagles won their next six section games by an average of 30 points, holding all of those opponents to 43 points or fewer.
The first month had served as a discovery period for South Park, which had to replace four-year starting guard Shelby Lindsay and center Breanna Raymond. Different combinations were used and new roles established. The end result was the creation of a team that, while still a work in progress, has the talent to beat anyone on its schedule on any given night.
Halie Torris, a 5-foot-11 senior forward, and Allison McGrath, a 5-10 sophomore forward, are the centerpieces and one of the most potent duos in the WPIAL. McGrath averages 17.9 points per game and Torris 16.5
"With those two, we have a shot against anybody we play against," Wells said.
Joining them in the starting lineup are 5-6 senior guard Lindsey Noss, 5-3 senior guard Amanda Quinn and 5-8 junior forward Samantha Miller.
In just a few weeks, the Eagles will begin defense of their WPIAL and PIAA titles.
"I think we have all the pieces in place," Wells said. "All our players have matured. We have really seen that during the season. I really think we're going to be a tough team to beat. If you ask any of the players, they couldn't imagine not going all the way."
Lebo living on the edge
Mt. Lebanon boys coach Joe David has what most would probably call a good head of hair.
David, though, has noticed a bit of a color change in recent weeks.
"I think I've seen some extra grays," David said, laughing.
The "rapid aging" has to do with Mt. Lebanon's penchant for down-to-the-wire games. The Blue Devils played five games between Jan. 14 and this past Saturday. Three were decided by two points, one by four, and the other in double overtime.
Luckily for David and company, four of those thrillers resulted in Mt. Lebanon wins, and three were section triumphs.
Through Tuesday, Mt. Lebanon (8-9, 6-3) was in third place in Class AAAA Section 4. One of six teams still in contention for the section's four playoff spots, the Blue Devils are also in striking distance of a section title.
David's son, Jonny, has had a breakout season and leads the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game. Jonny David, a 6-1 junior point guard, scored 42 in a game earlier this season and had 32 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists in the double-overtime, non-section win against Montour Saturday. David was 20 of 23 from the free-throw line.
Joe David said he expects a wild fight to the finish in section play.
"For us, we have to take care of business," he said. "We can only control what we control and we'll let the chips fall where they may."
Here is a top boys game to keep an eye on this week:
Thomas Jefferson at Steel Valley, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. -- It's a three-horse race for the Class AAAA Section 4 title -- these teams along with Elizabeth Forward -- and the stretch run is here. Thomas Jefferson has defeated Steel Valley in all three meetings over the past two seasons, including a surprisingly lopsided 84-57 win on Jan. 10. It was Steel Valley's worst loss since the 2010-11 season. Thomas Jefferson is one of the hottest teams in Class AAA, having won eight in a row since a one-point setback to Elizabeth Forward on Dec. 30.