UPDATE: Time and place are set: BALDWIN HIGH SCHOOL's VARSITY GIRLS BASKETBALL team will play Oakland Catholic High School at 6 p.m. on Tuesday (at neutral-site North Allegheny High School) in the WPIAL semifinals. (Tickets cost $6 each.)
's varsity girls basketball team turned the lights out on Shaler Area High School's WPIAL title dreams on Friday night—literally.
After a power outage delayed Friday's WPIAL AAAA playoffs game at neutral-site Fox Chapel Area High School for 41 minutes midway through the third quarter, Baldwin High finished the game on a 16-6 run to win, 39-28, and advance to the WPIAL's "final four," which starts Tuesday with a semifinals game against Oakland Catholic High School.
The Highlanders (17-6), who have won six straight games and 11 out of their past 12, trailed Shaler Area only once on Friday—22-21 at halftime after a deep 3-pointer by Titans senior guard Cate Potter late in the second period.
A bucket by Baldwin's senior forward/center opened the scoring in the second half to give her team the lead back for good, and Baldwin extended that lead out to three points at the end of the third quarter.
The 11-point margin of victory was the Highlanders' largest lead of the game, but Shaler trailed by at least six points for most of the fourth quarter thanks largely to Baldwin scoring the first six points of that period, including the first four from senior point guard Taylor Wentzel, who finished with a game-high 12 points.
Fox Chapel Area High was one of many victims around Allegheny County of Duquesne Light power outages on Friday night. While it is not known exactly what caused Fox Chapel's outage—some on-site officials were blaming a nearby car accident—Duquesne Light was blaming most of Friday's outages on severe wind conditions.
The lights went out at Fox Chapel soon after Lauterbach's two points gave Baldwin the lead that it would never relinquish.
Baldwin seized control of the game after that basket and the ensuing power outage, with the Titans never getting back on track, missing many of the same shots—including a number of 3-pointers—that they were hitting regularly in the first half.
"Once the lights came back on, and we started to play again," said , Baldwin's first-year head coach, "we really wanted to push the tempo. We thought that maybe that little break there would be in our favor to (refocus) and get the game moving, try to get us into the flow.
"We knew that we wanted to push the ball before the game started, and we really didn't get a great chance to do that at the beginning of the game. So that little break there kind of worked out in our favor."
After Wentzel and Baldwin's sophomore guard/forward Taylor Letender combined to score the first six points of the fourth quarter and make the count 31-22 in favor of the Highlanders, Shaler called consecutive timeouts to set up a traditional 3-point play by freshman forward Andi Lyden with about four minutes remaining.
Baldwin came right back after that, though, with two points from sophomore guard Amanda Johnston to push the lead to 33-25. The eight-point advantage with just over three minutes to play turned out to be too much for Shaler, which tried to match Baldwin's pace but could not take care of the ball. A bevy of late turnovers by the Titans put them in the position of having to foul late and rely on poor free-throw shooting by Baldwin.
But the Highlanders would have none of it. After the teams traded chances back and forth, Baldwin got the ball in the hands of senior guard Carly Corcoran, and Corcoran went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the game's final minutes to seal the win.
Corcoran finished with nine points, just ahead of Lauterbach's eight. Letender added six points, and Johnston dropped in four.
Senior forward Ashley Domachowski led the Titans (14-10) with seven points, followed closely by Potter's six.
By virtue of their semifinals appearance on Tuesday, the Highlanders have clinched one of the WPIAL's five bids to the state (PIAA) AAAA playoffs. But for Wentzel, who along with Lauterbach and Corcoran are the team's tri-captains, just being in the "final four" isn't enough.
"I'll have to talk to (Wentzel) about that," Prosser said. "We have to beat Oakland first."
Indeed, Baldwin will face an experienced and mightily talented Oakland Catholic team—a team that in the WPIAL quarterfinals—before it can even think about possibly facing Mt. Lebanon's team in the final.
Oakland Catholic is 23-1 this season, including a 65-39 win at Baldwin on Jan. 7 and a 40-35 win over Bethel Park High School on Friday in another WPIAL quarterfinal.
"We know what Oakland is about," Prosser said. "They're going to go pressure defense, man-to-man, full court, all over the place. We know that they have the Baker girl (senior guard Bobbi Baker) who's going to be a big-time scorer if you let her. We have just have to be ready for a really, really intense game.
"We have to be ready to play—plain and simple. We're gonna have to play close to perfect in order to beat them. They're a very good team. They're very well-coached, and they're used to winning."
For Baldwin to be in WPIAL championship contention this season could come as a surprise to many. The team is playing under a first-year head coach, and its leading scorer from a season ago—first-team all-state guard/forward —is now a freshman at Duquesne University.
"Everybody told us that we're not gonna win without Belma," Lauterbach said, "so we wanna prove everybody wrong.
"We are a team. It wasn't just Belma's show. We played together, and we're still together."
Should Baldwin upset Oakland Catholic in the semifinals (exact time and location to be determined), the Highlanders would play the winner of the Mt. Lebanon High School- game, which will also be held on Tuesday at an undetermined time and place, in the WPIAL final at Duquesne's Palumbo Center on Friday, March 2.
Mt. Lebanon High (21-3)—the three-team defending state champion—earned its spot in the semifinals this year with a 61-45 win over on Friday, and Upper St. Clair High (13-11)—the tournament's Cinderella story—advanced after posting its second straight upset in these playoffs—a 44-42 win over Hempfield Area High School on Friday.
Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair each play in the WPIAL's AAAA Section 4.
AAAA is the WPIAL and PIAA's highest classification. All four WPIAL semifinalists qualify for the PIAA playoffs. Shaler would earn the WPIAL's No. 5 bid only if Baldwin wins the WPIAL title.
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