This article was originally published on March 13, 2011.
No gymnasium? No problem.
Staying focused on diocesan titles when, truth be told, you really have bigger fish to fry? No sweat.
Taking every team's best shot when you've been on top of the mountain for so long? Ain't nothin' but a thing.
St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin School in Whitehall Borough offers many great things to grade-schoolers, not the least of which is a tremendous athletics tradition, but the great irony of that is that St. Gabriel's doesn't have a gym.
You wouldn't know it by watching the school play girls basketball, though.
Indeed, the Gators girls wrapped up their third straight Diocese of Pittsburgh championship by beating St. Bonaventure School, 34-22, in the diocese's championships final at neutral-site Oakland Catholic High School on Sunday, March 13.
Even St. Gabe's junior-varsity girls won a diocesan title this year, taking the jayvee level's championship via a 21-20 victory over St. Alphonsus School at Oakland Catholic on Monday night, March 7.
And make no mistake; the Gators aren't playing cream puffs. St. Alphonsus' jayvee squad went 10-0 in section play during the 2010-11 season to finish first in the jayvee standings of the diocese's North 1A Section, and St. Bonaventure's varsity girls also put together a 10-0 section mark this season to win the North 1A.
Neither team could ultimately catch St. Gabe's this season, though, especially St. Bonaventure, which looked out of sorts from beginning to end on Sunday.
In fact, the 34-22 final score was closer than the game truly was.
St. Gabe's Head Coach Dan Kail said that what made St. Bonaventure good this season was its ability to shoot the ball well, but you wouldn't know that by how bad the Gators made them look at times offensively.
When asked why the Bobcats had so much trouble shooting against his team, Kail said, "They didn't get the shots off; that's why. We didn't let them."
Certainly, St. Gabe's full-court defense gave the Bobcats fits all night, seemingly forcing a turnover on every other possession and often leading to points in transition.
The Bobcats scored the game's first two points, but St. Gabe's took over for good after that, scoring the next 13 points to lead, 13-2, at the end of the first quarter.
The game tightened in the second quarter with seven points to a side, but the Bobcats still found themselves down by 11 at halftime, 20-9.
Perhaps sensing that the momentum had shifted, St. Bonaventure kept its defensive strategy when it came out for the third quarter, sticking with a half-court defense that backfired when the Gators chose to milk the clock.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, Nicolete Newman was a one-girl wrecking crew for St. Gabe's at the start of the second half, scoring the first four points of the third quarter to put the Gators up, 24-9.
St. Gabe's finished the third quarter ahead, 26-13, and Nicolete finished with six points for the game.
Despite a speedy namesake, the Bobcats had trouble running with the Gators and were forced to foul throughout the third quarter to prevent easy buckets.
As a result, St. Gabe's went into the free-throw shooting bonus before the third period had even ended and made enough free throws down the stretch to put the game away.
St. Bonaventure finally started pressing full-court during the fourth quarter and forced enough turnovers to get as close as 10 points behind St. Gabe's, but it was too little too late. The Bobcats simply ran out of time, and the Gators were simply that much better.
As Diocese of Pittsburgh champions, St. Gabe's has again earned an opportunity to win a state title, something that it accomplished just a year ago.
Two years ago, the Gators fell two points shy of the state title sponsored by the Catholic Youth Organization.
Kail said that St. Gabe's will open this year's state playoffs on March 25 at The University of Scranton.
In addition to Nicolete's six points, the Gators were led by Cassidy Walsh's and Nicole Niemiec's game-high nine points each against St. Bonaventure. Teammate Amanda Larkin's eight points weren't far behind, and Danielle Dadig's two points accounted for the rest of St. Gabe's scoring.
Nicolete, Cassidy, Nicole, Amanda and Danielle – all eighth-graders – started the game against St. Bonaventure and were a part of the Gators' run to a state title last year as seventh-grade members of the team, something that Kail said should help this year.
"They're a great bunch of kids," Kail said. "They play together. They do whatever I ask them to. They're just a great bunch.
"They've been with me since fourth grade."
Kail was asked if winning the diocese's title has become less important or exciting over the years given the Gators' habit of claiming that championship.
He didn't think so.
"It's the best," he said. "Three years in row. This is as good as anything."
"It's still special to us," she said. "We don't take it for granted."
Cassidy went on to talk about what playing in the state tournament will mean to her and the Gators' other eighth-graders this year.
"I think we're gonna go make states our last chance to be together and really play well," she said. "We're gonna take states game-by-game and just enjoy every moment of it.
"We all have a lot of experience. We're gonna take that experience up to states and show them that we're back.
"We're St. Gabe's."