East/South Xtra: Mt. Lebanon is next challenge for Penn-Trafford

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Success in the WPIAL quarterfinals and a trip to the WPIAL semifinals is almost considered part of the curriculum for players on the Mt. Lebanon High School girls basketball team, although you would not be able to presume that by coach Dori Oldaker's demeanor as she prepares for Friday night's quarterfinal game against Penn-Trafford.

Mt. Lebanon has won its past seven WPIAL quarterfinal games, sending the Blue Devils to the WPIAL Class AAAA "final four" every year since 2007.

After defeating Gateway, 63-46, last Friday night in a first-round game, Oldaker wasted no time in tracking down and watching film of Penn-Trafford, that same night.

"We watched quite a bit of film," Oldaker said Saturday morning. "Penn-Trafford is a very solid team, a very good team. They are fundamentally sound and they have three kids who score in double digits. It is going to be a very tough challenge."

The No. 2-seeded Blue Devils (16-5) will face No. 7 Penn-Trafford (17-6) at 6:15 p.m Friday at North Hills High School.

The teams previously met last year in the second round of the PIAA tournament, a 59-36 Mt. Lebanon win.

"I really don't believe so," Oldaker said when asked if anything could be taken away from the postseason meeting last year. "Obviously, they are a different team and we are a different team. It is going to be tough."

Oldaker and the Blue Devils are hardly taking for granted a possible eighth-consecutive WPIAL semifinals berth. When responding to a well-wisher for the game Friday night, Oldaker replied, "We'll need it."

This is coming from a program that has reached the WPIAL finals four of the past six years, winning it three teams and from a team that is seeded second after winning the title in brutally tough Class AAAA Section 4 with a 10-2 record.

Mt. Lebanon is responsible for No. 1 North Allegheny's only loss this season, a 60-58 decision at the North Allegheny tipoff tournament in early December.

But Mt. Lebanon has been far from dominant as of late. After starting 7-0 in section play the Blue Devils went 3-2 in section games down the stretch, losing by 14 at Bethel Park and by six at Baldwin.

In the WPIAL first-round game, Mt. Lebanon clung to a one-point lead at halftime against No. 15 seed Gateway (13-9) before pulling away and winning, 63-46.

"Gateway is very athletic and they played well," Oldaker said. "I told the kids that is exactly the type of game that we need to be challenged. We fought through adversity and we made sure we didn't push any panic buttons. To be able to pull away at the very end, was a good sign."

Mt. Lebanon used a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter to pull away from the Gators. Senior forward Christine Ehland scored 18 of her game-high 24 points in the second half.

After an impressive regular-season that included a 12-game winning streak that began the first weekend of January, Penn-Trafford stumbled into the playoffs with two consecutive losses.

With a chance to claim an outright title in Class AAAA Section 1, the Warriors slipped at home and lost, 65-61, to Norwin, to share the section title with the Knights.

Three days later, Penn-Trafford lost by 11 at Blackhawk, the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class AAA tournament.

Then in its first-round game, Penn-Trafford allowed Plum to open the second half on a 12-0 run to take a 32-20 lead. The Warriors found a way to rally, taking a 40-39 lead and holding on for a 46-43 win.

Junior guard Maria Palarino hit a free throw that put Penn-Trafford up for good. She finished with 12 and junior guard Casey Aunkst led the team with 15 points.

Oldaker showed plenty of respect to Penn-Trafford and coach John Giannikas.

"Everybody that is still in the tournament right now is good," Oldaker said. "We have a lot of great coaches here in Quad-A and there is a lot of parity.

"In the tournament, you just can't have a bad night. Anybody can have a bad night. We hope to string together some good nights."

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