West Xtra: When title-game heat started to rise, Cougars found way to keep cool

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The heralded Class of 2015 arrived at Blackhawk three years ago.

They were joining a program that had just gone to Palumbo Center and captured a WPIAL championship. With an influx of talented freshmen, more titles were expected. But despite 25 and 27-win seasons in 2012 and 2013, the Cougars fell one step shy of the WPIAL final both years.

This year, the group finally cleared the hurdle.

"It was huge for us to get there," coach Steve Lodovico said. "It was almost like a thorn in our side that we couldn't get through that semifinal game. For them to take that next step was big for us and big for our program. The girls felt so much pressure going into these playoff games. Once they got there, they were pretty loose."

And it showed.

The Cougars led wire to wire on their way to a 62-55 win against South Park. They led, 38-21, in the third quarter and managed to keep their composure when South Park got to within one in the final minutes.

"We just tried to keep the ball in our guards' hands and tried to milk the clock down the stretch," Lodovico said. "We hit our free throws and our leaders showed a lot of leadership and composure."

Blackhawk made 9 of 10 free throws down the stretch.

Senior guard Halle Denman, who was the sixth man on the 2011 WPIAL championship team, led the way Saturday with 21 points. Junior guards Chassidy Omogrosso and Bridgette Shaffer scored 17 and 14.

"Our girls have been in some tough games and some really intense state playoff games which prepared them for this," Lodovico said.

The matchup between top-seeded Blackhawk (23-2) and No. 3 South Park (21-5) was hardly a surprise. The teams met last season in the PIAA semifinals and two years ago in the WPIAL semifinals with South Park winning both meetings. The two prior postseason meetings were decided by a combined 11 points with one going to overtime.

"Any time we play each other, the games go down to the wire," Lodovico said. "Every time we play them, it is a great game. We have a lot of respect for South Park. We are always excited to play them. They are fun games."

Forward Danielle Levato, part of the Class of 2015, had a big game for Blackhawk, grabbing 11 rebounds and coming up with critical baskets.

"She is somebody that does all the things that go unnoticed," Lodovico said. "She did a tremendous job defensively and came up with big buckets. She had so much energy and excitement."

At times, Blackhawk was unable to get stops, but its hot shooting more than made up for that. The Cougars set a WPIAL Class AAA championship record with eight 3-pointers, breaking the previous record of seven held by Blackhawk (2001) and North Catholic (2004). Shaffer and Omogrosso combined for seven of the 3-pointers with Denman hitting the other.

After a day off Monday, Blackhawk was scheduled to scrimmage North Allegheny and Bishop Canevin ahead of the PIAA tournament that starts Saturday. Blackhawk will play the third-place team out of District 10, Mercyhurst Prep (19-6), at 4 p.m. at Moon Area High School. Last season, Blackhawk won its first three PIAA playoff games by an average of 32 points on its way to the semifinals.

"We enjoyed Saturday, now we have to move on and get that next one," Lodovico said. "This is where you rely on your leaders. We just have to regroup, restart and become hungry again."

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