Believe it or not, things do change from year to year at .
Students graduate, teachers leave, administrators retire.
But some things remain as constant as sunrise and taxes, like the St. Gabriel varsity girls basketball team, which hasn't given up its Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh crown in four years—not even for Lent.
St. Gabe's, of , outlasted St. Thomas More School, 44-39 in overtime, on Sunday afternoon in the Pittsburgh Diocese's championship game at neutral-site Oakland Catholic High School, giving the Gators their fourth title in four seasons.
Not that they didn't have to work for it.
St. Thomas More, of Bethel Park, made sure of that. The Tigers used every centimeter of 6-foot-2-inch eighth-grade center Becca Turney on Sunday to take a 35-30 lead over the Gators with just 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. It was Becca's game-high 16th and 17th points of the contest that gave the Tigers that lead—their biggest of the contest.
But St. Gabe's eighth-grade guard Alex Barr responded to Becca with two free throws to narrow the gap to 35-32 with 1:42 left in the quarter.
Neither team could hold onto the ball after that, trading turnovers, misses and fouls that eventually landed Gabe's seventh-grade guard/forward Lauren Gilbert at the free-throw line shooting two with 50 seconds left. Lauren made the first but missed the second to narrow the gap to 35-33.
Following a Thomas More rebound and timeout, the Gators stole the Tigers' in-bounds pass and called a timeout of their own with 46 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, the ball ended up in the hands of eighth-grade guard Mallory O'Brien, who calmly drained a jumper to tie the score at 35 with 33 seconds to play.
The Gators' full-court pressure then forced another Tigers turnover, and Gabe's had a chance to win the game in regulation. But a last-second jumper by Alex was off the mark.
Gabe's seized control in overtime, as Lauren hit her third 3-pointer of the game to open scoring in the extra period, 38-35. The Gators nailed five 3-pointers overall to zero for the Tigers. (Alex had the other two 3-balls.)
"My coaches say, 'If you have a good shot, go for the shot,'" Lauren said.
The Gators never trailed again during the short, three-minute overtime frame, which they made seem even shorter by executing passes and cycling to milk the clock in the Tigers' half of the court.
After Lauren's final 3-pointer, Gabe's forced another Thomas More turnover, causing the Tigers to starting fouling and hoping for misses with 1:29 left. Alex went to the line for a one-and-one opportunity, and hit both shots for a 40-35 lead.
Thomas More responded with two points from eighth-grade forward Megan Horgan to make it 40-37 with 1:20 left and then sent the Gators' Lauren back to the line with 43 seconds left.
Lauren made the first free throw but missed the second, and the Tigers collected the rebound. Still, it was a two-possession game at 41-37.
The Tigers made another costly turnover after that, giving the ball back to the Gators and putting them back at the line with 36 ticks left.
This time, Lauren missed the first shot but made the second to push the score to 42-37.
Then, in perhaps the game's most fitting moment, St. Gabe's seventh-grade forward Maddi Sgattoni—about a head-and-a-half shorter than the Tigers' Becca, fought her for a loose ball that was tied up and awarded to the Gators. Shortly later, Mallory made two free throws for the Gators' final points.
Two points by the Tigers in the final seconds spelled the final score, but it was too little too late.
Gabe's is on to the state tournament—sponsored by the Catholic Youth Organization—for the . St. Gabe's has won the .
The Gators'll go as far as they can in the state playoffs, but winning Pittsburgh's title never gets old.
That seems especially true for Head Coach Dan Kail's team this year, which wasn't the runaway favorite for once to win the region's championship, as it has been in recent memory. In fact, the Gators even lost a regular-season game to Thomas More earlier this season, a section loss that Gabe's rarely suffers.
"This year, I think it's a little bigger," Kail said, "because these kids weren't supposed to win it. I saw the improvement from Day One to today, and it's just leaps and bounds. So, it's a little more special ...
"These kids, when they started out this year, we weren't the team we were today. We weren't playing very well. We had a couple kids with injuries. And they just came together and kept working.
"It's a credit to them. They love the game. They play hard, they play together, and they care about each other ...
"We're not real big. We don't have much of an inside game. When you go up against a kid like today (Becca), it's special."
Alex, who finished with 14 points, confirmed that the diocesan title still means a lot to the Gators, even with the state playoffs looming.
"This is a very huge deal for us," she said. "Like all of the other teams, we really pushed it and put all of our hearts into this."
Lauren led Gabe's with 15 points, and Mallory was right behind with 11. Maddi added three points, and eighth-grade forward/center Brie Scott had the team's other point before fouling out with 3:13 left in the fourth quarter.
"I didn't even expect us to make it this far, but here we are," Alex said, "We're going to states ...
"We are pretty excited, and I know we're gonna try our best to complete another state championship."
Clear some more space in the trophy case at Gabe's—you know, just in case.
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