Dynasty in Whitehall: St. Gabe's Wins 5th Straight Basketball Crown
The Gators overcome a fourth-quarter St. Alphonsus lead to earn another diocesan title.
Clinging to a one-possession lead with less than two minutes to play, St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin School forward Michaela Cavataio changed the basketball game with one hard fall to floor.
And like all good falls, she took someone down with her.
St. Alphonsus School's dominant 6-foot center Samantha Breen came barreling to the hoop late in Sunday's Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh varsity girls championship game at Oakland Catholic High School looking for a game-high 18 points and trying to narrow St. Gabriel's lead to just one point.
But Michaela—already with four fouls on the day—stood in Samantha's way, and apparently, stood the right way, for when the whistle sounded and the ball sailed wide of the hoop, the foul was against the offensive player.
Samantha, hit with a hard charging foul, was out of the game with her fifth personal of the day, ridding St. Alphonsus of its best offensive player and its best shot at a comeback.
It was the most important play of the game for Michaela, a seventh-grader who was giving up at least a couple of inches to the eighth-grade Samantha, and it was a play that went a long way toward netting St. Gabe's a 37-33 win and its fifth straight diocesan championship.
Michaela said that she was aware of the situation—the next foul on either her or Samantha would be that player's last of the game—but was more concerned with just playing good defense.
"I kind of just shut my eyes and said, 'She's not getting the ball in the hoop,'" Michaela said.
Still, Michaela, who finished with two points before also fouling out herself about a minute later, said that it was important to get Samantha that fifth foul.
St. Alphonsus' aggressive post player had given Gabe's fits all night, and despite not playing for the final 1 minute and 31 seconds, Samantha's 16 points tied for the game-high.
"She's a very good player, and we knew that coming in," St. Gabe's Head Coach Dan Kail said. "We didn't have much of an answer for her."
Nevertheless, Gabe's went inside the paint to look for points against the Flames. In fact, neither team attempted a 3-pointer all game, which is especially rare for the Gators, who usually try for points beyond the arc about 15 times per contest.
Kail said that the Flames' defensive strategy had the most to do with his team's offensive change-up.
"We can hit the threes," the venerable coach said, "that's why they played us man-to-man. We got some shooters out there, and they felt their best chance was man-to-man. I can understand that.
"But then, you have foul problems when you play physical. St. Al's plays very physical, and it ended up burning them a little bit."
Indeed, the Flames put Gabe's into the double bonus in both the second and fourth quarters, and the Gators made that hurt, especially eighth-grade guard/forward Lauren Gilbert, who made two free throws to end the first half and two more at the end of the game to ice the win.
Gilbert, who led the Gators with 16 points, stepped to the line with 18 seconds to play and a 35-32 lead and calmly drained both shots to essentially put the game away.
Unlike Michaela, Lauren was a part of the Gators' championship team the previous season and already knew what it was like to win a diocesan title.
And just like Coach Kail, who has been a part of all five consecutive championships, Lauren hasn't tired of winning them yet.
"It's still very special," said Lauren, who will play at Baldwin High School next season but will first eye a possible Catholic Youth Organization statewide title later this month.
Kail credited Lauren and eighth-grade forward/center Maddi Sgattoni for their play against the physical Flames, who hail from Pine Township and finished the regular season 11-1 out of the diocese's North 1A Section. Gabe's, of Whitehall Borough, went 10-0 in the South 1A.
"Maddi Sgattoni stepped up, and so did some of the other kids, like Lauren," Kail said. "It's just a team effort, and we're blessed. To win five in a row, they're all special."
Maddi finished with 11 points, including a terrific individual effort when she stole a Flames in-bounds pass with about 30 seconds left in the fourth and went the other way for an important two points and a 35-31 lead.
Like last year's championship game, the Gators had to come from behind in the fourth quarter to extend their run of championships. The Flames led on Sunday, 25-24, after three periods. St. Al's even had a five-point lead late in the third before Lauren scored the next four points to narrow the gap.
"I'm proud of the way they played," St. Al's Head Coach Doug Robbins said of his team. "They all played well. It was a good game.
"We played hard all year, and I didn't expect any different here. The difference in the game was we missed our free throws, and they made theirs. That's the way it goes."
St. Al's made three of 12 free throws and had two other chances wiped out by the shooter stepping on the charity stripe. Meanwhile, St. Gabe's made 19 of 29 free throws, as the Flames were whistled for 23 fouls, compared to 16 for the Gators.
Following Maddi's steal and bucket, St. Al's seventh-grade guard Ashley Robbins made one free throw, followed by two from Lauren and one from the Flames' seventh-grade guard Hannah Sturgis.
Hannah missed her second free throw, and the game ended as both teams fought for the loose ball.
Coach Robbins pointed to the seven seventh-graders on his roster as a reason to believe that the Flames'll be back in the championship game next year.
For St. Gabe's, there's no reason to think that they won't be.
Just ask Michaela. When asked why Gabe's should be the favorite to win a sixth straight title next year, she said, simply, "'Cause we're St. Gabe's."
Score by quarters:
St. Alphonsus' scorers: Breen (16), Robbins (5), Tori Kopchak (4), Emma Cottrill (4), Lauren Wasylson (3), Sturgis (1)
St. Gabriel's scorers: Gilbert (16), Sgattoni (11), Bailey Canavan (5), Abby Barr (3), Cavataio (2)
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