North Xtra: Shaler rallies, reaches basketball playoffs
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Sitting on a school bus outside the Pine-Richland gym for 30 minutes, Shaler Area girls basketball coach Neal Martin liked what he heard -- nothing.
A fire alarm went off during Pine-Richland's pregame introductions before Shaler's biggest game of the season, a regular-season finale that amounted to a WPIAL playoff play-in game for the Titans. Win and they were in the playoffs, something that seemed an impossibility less than a month ago when Shaler was 0-5 in section play with a young team under Martin, a first-year head coach.
But yet there were the Titans, waiting for the go-ahead to return to the gym to play for their postseason life. The demeanor of the players on the bus gave a good indication of what was on the line.
"They sat on the bus for 30 minutes, there wasn't a sound," Martin said. "It was a real important game to our girls."
Unfazed by the delay or the atmosphere at Pine-Richland during senior night, Shaler came out and won, 43-33, to finish the regular season 11-11, including a 5-7 record in Class AAAA Section 3 to secure the section's fourth playoff berth.
"We stayed focused," senior guard Courtney Bauer said of the delay before the Pine-Richland game. "We didn't let it get us off our game."
Bauer and the Titans have been through a lot the past three seasons. There have been two coaching changes -- Martin is the program's third coach in three years.
Two years ago Shaler won a WPIAL championship by knocking off Mt. Lebanon at the Palumbo Center in one of the biggest WPIAL postseason upsets ever.
Last year Shaler reached the WPIAL quarterfinals where it lost to Baldwin in another bizarre game. The game was delayed for around an hour after a car hit a tree outside the gym and knocked out electrical power.
There is no telling what is in store this postseason for the Titans except that they will be a part of it thanks to their ability to bounce back.
The Titans will play Chartiers Valley (16-6, 8-4), the third-place team from Section 4, at 6:30 p.m. Friday at North Hills.
Shaler started section play with five consecutive losses, which easily could have been a 4-1 start. Shaler lost to North Hills by two, to Seneca Valley by nine, to Oakland Catholic by four and Butler by three.
"They believed in their talents and so did I," Martin said. "They understood it was just about making a few key plays here or there. It is such a grinder of a league, one bad turnover in a tie game is a big deal. I think the fact that we were in every game, allowed them to keep believing."
Shaler kept believing and then it kept winning. It defeated Pine-Richland, 49-45, to win its first section game of the season and then avenged losses to North Hills, Seneca Valley and Oakland Catholic in the span of eight days.
"We scraped and clawed and fought and that is all you really can do," Martin said.
Sophomore center Andi Lydon was the only returning starter Martin, a former coach at Northgate, inherited. The other starters are Bauer, junior guards Carly Harris and Paige Quinn and junior guard/forward Abbey Conrad. Sophomore guard Liz Kline and senior guard Marissa Bens are Shaler's top two players off the bench.
Bauer led all scorers with 11 points in the critical win against Oakland Catholic. Lydon is Shaler's leading scorer averaging around 10 points per game. She came up with a 16-point performance in the postseason-clinching win at Pine-Richland.
"[Lydon] has very good back-to-the-basket moves," Martin said. "She can finish with either hand and she has been asserting herself more and more as the season has gone on."
As the fourth-place team in the section, the Titans will have an uphill climb in the postseason. The players who were around two years ago for Shaler's improbable run to a WPIAL championship enter this postseason with the knowledge that anything can happen in the playoffs.
First Published February 14, 2013 12:00 am