Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
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.
Shelby Brown, a 5-7 senior guard, guides Mohawk’s offensive attack. Brown, who will continue her basketball career at NCAA Division III Mount Union (Ohio), nets a team-best 16.8 points a game.
“Brown seems to be their catalyst,” Frontino said. “Everything goes through her; she’s a very good player.
“Brown has a good pull-up jumper, and she can go left or right. She does everything well. She handles the ball very well. She moves without the ball, and she will pass it, too. I thought she uses screens really well; she’s the real deal.”
Paige Ruby, a 5-10 senior forward, is a force in the middle for the Lady Warriors. Ruby adds 9.2 points a game. Ruby collected 11 rebounds to go with her 20 markers in the team’s loss to Bishop Canevin in the district quarterfinals.
“They use some pick-and-rolls for Ruby and she posts up pretty well,” Frontino said. “She’s very versatile with her inside-outside game; she sets Brown up a lot, too.”
Devon Giancola, a 5-8 senior guard, tosses in 8.8 points a game for Mohawk.
The Lady Warriors are averaging 45.7 points a game and giving up 39.8.
“They’re a pretty uptempo team,” Frontino said of Mohawk. “Brown gets the ball and they go and they execute very well.
“They’ll show a fullcourt zone trap and their 2-2-1 will put some pressure on you.”
North East nets 53.8 points a contest and surrenders just 35.2.
“They have 23 wins, so they’re doing something right,” O’Lare said. “I don’t think they push it. They just try to get it set up and run an offense.
“I’ve seen man, defensively, from them. That’s what we have to make sure of is that we’re efficient on offense and running everything the right way.”
Brown scored 27 of the team’s 52 points in a 52-44 first-round win over Everett on Friday.
“We have to get more balanced scoring,” O’Lare said of his team’s keys to victory. “Shelby is going to get hers. And then we need to get others around the double digit mark. That’s our focus.
“We have to defend well and limit them to one shot. We have to play good defense and rebound the ball.”
O’Lare said his team had no trouble being ready for the state playoffs.
“They were very excited,” O’Lare said of his team’s emotion with reaching the state playoffs. “I was so happy for them because they are getting out what they have put in for so long. It’s the feeling they deserve.
“Every one of them plays a spring sport. I have to give credit to the coaches of both spring programs at Mohawk. They were very respectful of what we’re doing. They weren’t pushing to get the kids over to their sport. If we can win that will turn over to their program. We have a good relationship there.”
Frontino mentioned his team needs to hit the glass well for a shot at victory.
“We have to win the rebounding battle,” he said. “We’re not very big. We have to be patient with the ball and execute.
“We’re a very well conditioned team and we have a tendency to be a little bit stronger at the end. But we have to stay out of foul trouble. We always seem to have at least two players sitting for a quarter or more.”
The winner advances to meet the survivor of the Greensburg Central Catholic-Seton-La Salle contest Friday in the Elite Eight.