Oakland Catholic's Pressure, 3-Pointers Stymie Baldwin
Eagles advance to WPIAL girls basketball title game; Highlanders await state playoffs.
Baldwin vs. Oakland Catholic at North Allegheny had a similar feel this season as it did a year ago. Same opponent, same place, same result.
For the second straight season on Tuesday, Oakland Catholic High School eliminated Baldwin High School from the WPIAL girls basketball playoffs (at neutral-site North Allegheny High School). But this year's 58-41 loss feels a little different.
For another, the Highlanders generally like the way that they're playing right now.
"We're much more of a team and determined this year," Baldwin's sophomore guard Amanda Johnston said. "We might be down for right now, but we just know that we're gonna come back and hopefully see them (Oakland Catholic) again.
"We just have to maintain the same focus."
Truth be told, Baldwin, which falls to 17-7 this season, didn't play bad on Tuesday. Oakland Catholic (now 24-1) is just that good.
Seemingly every time that the Highlanders got close to Oakland Catholic, the Eagles responded with a basket. And usually a 3-point one at that.
"It was a frustrating game overall," Baldwin's first-year Head Coach Gavin Prosser said. "They're (Oakland Catholic is) very quick. They play a lot of guards. We tried to match up with them as best we could. They like to penetrate (to the basket) and kick (back out). And we got beat off the penetration, which forces our girls to help over (instead of guarding the 3-point shot). We just couldn't get out on them quick enough.
"They seemed to hit a big shot every time we hit a shot. It's just the way the game went."
On four different occasions, Oakland Catholic responded to a Baldwin 3-pointer with a 3-pointer of its own on the very next possession, including twice early in the fourth quarter when the game was still somewhat in doubt.
"It is pretty frustrating," said Johnston, who led the Highlanders with 12 points, including two 3-pointers in the second half that the Eagles immediately answered with ones of their own. "It just happens I guess."
Oakland Catholic also frustrated the Highlanders with its renowned pressure defense, challenging Baldwin for at least three-quarters of the court during the entire game and causing a bevy of turnovers.
Even Baldwin's best ball-handler, senior guard Taylor Wentzel, was victimized by several turnovers, especially in the fourth quarter when the Eagles opened up leads of 39-26 with about six minutes to play and 40-26 with about five minutes left, forcing Baldwin to hurry the ball.
Baldwin didn't do much substituting—unlike Oakland Catholic—in an effort to keep its best players on the floor. Playing a lot of minutes seemed to take its toll on each starting Highlander, especially senior forward/center Anna Lauterbach, who was hit with her fourth foul of the game with well more than half of the fourth quarter still to play.
Lauterbach was forced to sit for most of the remainder of the game, and the Eagles took advantage with some inside points to blow their lead open. Baldwin trailed by as many as 21 points twice in the fourth.
Oakland Catholic's senior guard Jess Mrdjenovich led all players with 19 points. Teammate and fellow senior guard Bobbi Baker added 10 points.
Wentzel was the game's other double-digit scorer, pouring in 10 points of her own.
The Eagles will face Mt. Lebanon High School in the WPIAL's AAAA final, to be held at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center on Friday. Mt. Lebanon defeated Upper St. Clair High School, 49-33, in another AAAA semifinal on Tuesday. (AAAA is the WPIAL and PIAA's highest classification.)
All four of the WPIAL's semifinalists will play in the PIAA playoffs, but times and locations are still to be determined, meaning that Baldwin must stay sharp while it plays the waiting game.
"We're gonna have a couple days off here to get our legs back," Prosser said. "We've had two hard practices the last two days to try to get ready for this (Oakland) game, so we'll have a couple days off, get back into the gym and just keep at it. Keep working."
Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch for updates.
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