HERSHEY, Pa. -- In a tunnel at the Giant Center, about 50 yards from the court where they had just claimed a PIAA championship, Steve Lodovico gathered his Blackhawk team around him.
Eighteen years ago, it was Lodovico who was in this position, the starting point guard on a two-time PIAA champion guided by legendary coach John Miller. All these years later, he still held on to that feeling, and if for some reason they weren't, he wanted his players to do the same.
"To this day, it's one of the best memories, besides getting married and having my two kids, that I'll never forget," Lodovico said. "They're going to remember it for the rest of their lives and it's a lot better when you win."
Blackhawk girls win Class AAA Championship
Blackhawk defeated Archbishop Wood, 51-43, in the PIAA Class AAA championship. (Video by Andrew Rush; 3/23/2014)
As she had for so much of the season, Chassidy Omogrosso came up big in a big game, scoring a game-high 26 points Saturday as Blackhawk relied on her scoring and a revamped defensive effort in the second half to beat Archbishop Wood, 51-43, in the PIAA Class AAA championship.
Throughout the year and in the days leading up to the game, Lodovico told his team of the euphoria that comes with being a champion. In some ways it was a motivational technique, but also a reminder of what was possible for a talented team with the pieces to win it all.
Standing around their coach immediately after the game, the Blackhawk players could now fully understand their coach's words.
"He said they were some of his best memories and he remembers how it felt, just like it was yesterday," senior Halle Denman said. "I wanted to be able to feel that in 20 or 30 years. Now I can."
That final result didn't always appear so certain, as the Cougars (28-2) trailed by four at halftime. But it was then that the WPIAL's highest-scoring Class AAA team leaned on its defense to deliver a championship.
Archbishop Wood (26-4), the District 12 champion, missed 10 of 12 shots in that period and had just two points in the first seven minutes of the quarter. Every time Blackhawk players came off the court, Lodovico stressed to them that they were holding a potent offense in check.
Those reminders gave them confidence, according to Denman -- the kind that grew with each defensive stand and empty possession.
By the time the quarter was over, a four-point deficit turned into a 36-31 lead, one that came with a 13-4 run that changed the game for good.
"Our defense and rebounding was going to win this game and we talked about that before the game," Omogrosso said. "Once we turned up our defense, it was going to lead to our offense, and we knew our offense would come. I think everyone just stepped up."
Faced with the task of protecting that lead in the fourth quarter, the Cougars responded, making 13 of 14 free-throw attempts to seal the program's third PIAA championship and first since 2000.
Denman was the only other Cougars player to finish in double figures, scoring 13 points and pulling down a game-high eight rebounds.
In the final moments, with a comfortable lead and as someone was shooting a free throw, Omogrosso looked over at teammate Bridgette Shaffer and smiled.
For her, no words were needed. That elusive moment their coach had described for so long had finally come.
"We looked up at the scoreboard and just couldn't believe it," Omogrosso said. "It was an amazing feeling."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published March 22, 2014 9:02 PM