NEW CASTLE —
Two girls basketball teams are bidding for history tonight.
Only one will reach elite status, though.
The Mohawk and North East high school girls basketball teams will meet at 7 p.m. today at Meadville High in the second round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs. At stake is a berth in the Elite Eight, which has eluded both programs for a lengthy stretch.
The Lady Warriors (18-7) last made the state’s final eight in 1983 when they finished 28-2, losing to North Catholic in the WPIAL playoffs and again in the state playoffs.
Mohawk coach Mike O’Lare said the three-decade Elite Eight dry spell will not affect his team.
“We’re not carrying 30 years worth of weight on our shoulders into this game,” said O’Lare, who is in his seventh season at the helm.
Mohawk is the fifth-place representative out of the WPIAL after Bishop Canevin topped Burrell in the semifinals to pull them into the state playoffs. The Lady Warriors secured the No. 5 seed with the Lady Crusaders’ district championship win over Seton-La Salle.
The Lady Grapepickers (23-3) won the District 10 championship (38-36 over General McLane), their first district title since 1987. North East, which competed in Class AAA the last two years before moving down this year, last reached the state’s final eight in 2003.
“Reaching the Elite Eight would be something the kids have had circled as a goal since their eighth-grade year,” fourth-year North East coach Terry Frontino said. “We don’t talk much about it, though. “They’ve worked hard to get to this point.”
Said O’Lare on North East, “Everybody is good at this point of the season. They have a very nice team.”
LEADING THE CHARGE
Alex Artise, a 5-foot-9 senior guard/forward, paces the Lady Grapepickers in most categories. Artise leads the team in scoring (16 ppg.), assists (3.8), rebounds (9.0) and blocks (1.2). She’s third in steals at 2.2 a game.
“I see how can she can create matchup problems,” O’Lare said. “She can play anywhere, from posting up or bringing it up the floor.
“She can score in a variety of ways and they use her in a lot of different areas. She has made the outside shot. But you have to play her everywhere she is. You can’t leave her alone.”
Artise, a Mercyhurst recruit, is the program’s all-time leader in scoring and assists. She’s within 50 or so rebounds of the school’s all-time mark as well according to Frontino.
“She’s one of those players that’s very smart,” Frontino said. “She’s played so hard and she’s such a great practice player.
“She just goes out and dictates the tempo of the game. She gets offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds, and gets the big defensive stops, too.”
Artise scored 14 points in a 59-49 first-round win over McGuffey. She was in foul trouble for the second straight game, missing about half of each game.
“We have had trouble of late with fouls,” Frontino said. “We’ve been getting nailed. We’ve had to sit our best player almost a whole half the last two games; it’s just one of those things.
“She plays hard, but she’s a clean player. A lot of times, she’s put into the situation where she sacrifices herself.”
Alexis Bowen, a 5-4 senior guard, chips in 11.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.7 steals and 2.1 assists. Bowen has tossed in a team-best 54 3-pointers.
“She shoots it quick,” O’Lare said of Bowen. “She doesn’t need much time to get the shot off. We’ll have to make sure where she is.”
Tori Prather, a senior point guard, tallies 7.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists a contest for the Lady Grapepickers.
“She handles the ball most of the time,” O’Lare said of Prather. “She does a good job of getting them in their offense.”
North East’s Annie Lewis, a 5-5 senior guard, is questionable for tonight’s game. Lewis, the team’s first sub off the bench, sustained a shoulder injury in the win over McGuffey when she collided with another player.
Lewis worked with the trainer yesterday and didn’t practice.
“She was more mobile than she has been, but she still didn’t practice,” Frontino said.