Defense delivers first crown for Bethel Park girls
Bethel Park teammates celebrate their win against Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL class AAAA championship Saturday.
Bethel Park's Samantha Simpson fights for a rebound against Chartiers Valley's Kristin McGeough in the WPIAL Class AAAA title game Saturday at Palumbo.
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Bethel Park and Chartiers Valley excelled during the regular season with sound and suffocating defense, something that also helped carry them through the WPIAL playoffs.
With the two meeting in the Class AAAA championship, it only made sense that defense would yet again be the deciding factor.
In a game largely bereft of scoring until the final minutes of play, it was the Black Hawks who got just enough offense to make program history.
Behind a game-high 15 points from point guard Mariah Penascino, all of which came in the second half, Bethel Park defeated Chartiers Valley, 48-34, Saturday night at Palumbo Center, giving the school its first WPIAL girls basketball championship.
"It's special, it's something you work for every year," Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke said. "I always say it, 'Our goal is the WPIAL championship.' I've been doing it 18 years and this is the first one we've won, so it doesn't happen very often. We're excited."
For a team that gave up just 37 points per game in the regular season and 31 points per game in the playoffs, Bethel Park's defensive prowess was again on full display.
The Black Hawks (23-3) held the Colts (19-7) to 11 of 42 (26.2 percent) shooting for the game, with no player scoring in double figures. Through the first 24 minutes, Chartiers Valley was held to just 16 points.
Burke's team had made strong defense one of the pillars of its overall philosophy and Saturday night, it helped transform the Black Hawks into champions.
"Our defense has been something we've relied on and the kids really believe in it, which that really helps it," Burke said.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the teams were on pace to record the fewest total points in a WPIAL girls Class AAAA championship, but they combined to score 41 points in the final period.
A senior leader at perhaps the most important position on the court, Penascino saved her best play for the game's deciding moments, scoring all 15 of her points in the final 16 minutes, including a 9 of 12 showing from the free-throw line.
Guard Harper Zimmer scored 11 points for Bethel Park and guard Megan Marecic, the team's leading scorer at 15.5 points per game in the regular season, added seven points and 11 rebounds. Guard Jenna Devinney led the Colts with nine points, making 3 of 5 3-point attempts.
Even with the loss, Chartiers Valley is not ashamed of its performance in its first WPIAL championship appearance.
"We ran into a team that played really good defense," Chartiers Valley coach Spencer Stekfo said. "It would have been nice if a couple of shots fall, but they didn't and that's not a reflection on my kids.
"That's a reflection on their kids and some excellent effort on the defensive end. They really got after it and those kids earned it."
Both teams advance to the PIAA playoffs, with Bethel Park drawing Mt. Lebanon and Chartiers Valley playing Allderdice in the first round.
For Burke, a former Pitt player and Bethel Park alum, work remains, but she and her team will savor their historical feat for the time being.
"I love the community and it's something I feel connected with," Burke said.
"I know my children are going to go through the school and to be able to look on our wall and see a WPIAL championship banner and say, 'Hey, we were a part of that' no matter when it is down the line is something special."
First Published March 3, 2013 12:14 am