HERSHEY, Pa. — Yacine Diop grew up in Senegal, and admits when she came to Seton-LaSalle High School last year she really didn’t know the meaning of a state championship.
But she played like it meant the world to her.
Diop, a senior forward, turned in a terrific performance in the PIAA Class AA title game Friday afternoon at the Giant Center. She had 10 points, 23 rebounds and 6 blocks to lift Seton-LaSalle to a 58-50 win against Neumann-Goretti of Philadelphia.
Seton LaSalle girls win state basketball championship
Seton LaSalle girls basketball wins the state championship 58-50 over Neumann-Goretti. (Video by Andrew Rush; 3/21/2014)
It was the second PIAA title in three years for Seton-LaSalle (27-4) and the win kept Neumann-Goretti (29-1) from a perfect season.
The heroes were many for Seton-LaSalle, but Diop was the one who fueled the Rebels. Seton-LaSalle frittered away a 14-point third-quarter lead and fell behind by two in the fourth, but outscored Neumann-Goretti, 14-4, in the final five minutes.
Diop, a 5-foot-10 guard-forward who will play at Pitt next season, made only 5 of 13 shots from the field, but was too much for Neumann-Goretti in a number of areas. Of her 23 rebounds, 10 came on the offensive end. She also had a few blocks at key times.
“No doubt this was her best game,” said coach Spencer Stefko. “For her to have 23 rebounds and six blocks is … someone give me a word. Give me a superlative that’s greater than ‘obscene.’ I don’t have the word.”
A reporter offered “surreal.”
“Is there a superlative form of surreal?” Stefko asked. “I haven’t seen anything like that.”
When the Rebels won a PIAA title two years ago, Diop was spending her first year in the U.S. attending Oak Hill Academy in Virginia. She transferred to Seton-LaSalle last year, but was ruled ineligible when the WPIAL and PIAA claimed she transferred because of athletic intent.
After the game, Diop was asked if she knew about state championships when she came to Seton-LaSalle.
“Not really,” she said. “But it feels really good. It feels really, really good. … Defensively, it was the best game I played this year, because my offense was not working really at all.”
Besides Diop’s play, a few other keys to the game were Seton-LaSalle’s free-throw shooting down the stretch, Neumann-Goretti’s poor shooting and Neumann Goretti’s shot selection.
Seton-LaSalle took a 37-23 lead with 6:40 left in the third quarter. But Neumann-Goretti came back and took the two-point lead. After that, Neumann-Goretti had seven possessions in the next four minutes, and missed a 3-pointer on six of those. For the game, Neumann-Goretti shot 24 percent from the field and 17 percent from 3-point range. Many of the 3-point attempts were rushed or taken with a defender challenging the shot.
“When you’re missing that much, it could be shot selection,” said Neumann-Goretti coach Letty Santarelli. “A lot of it was timing. … We were not in timing together running our offense.”
In the final 1:19, Seton-LaSalle was 10 of 10 from the free-throw line. Guard Nicolete Newman made 6 of 6 and finished with 17 points, including three 3-pointers. Guard Cassidy Walsh was 4 of 4 down the stretch.
“I was pretty nervous at first shooting,” Newman said. “But as soon as the first one went in, I was pretty confident after that.”
For Stefko, it was quite a way to end his first season as coach. Seton-LaSalle is trying to become only the third WPIAL school to win boys and girls PIAA titles in the same season. The boys play today in the Class AA final.
“I’m dead honest with this,” he said. “I really feel like I’m just along for the ride. For me to stand here and act like this team is mine would be a lie. This is Seton-LaSalle’s team.”
For more on high school sports, go to “Varsity Blog” at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: email@example.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh