PITTSBURGH — There will be a new addition coming to the Mohawk High gymnasium.
A WPIAL girls basketball championship banner.
The Lady Warriors turned up the defensive pressure and were able to grind out a 44-26 victory over Beaver in the WPIAL Class 3A championship game Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center.
It’s the first district championship in the history of the Mohawk girls basketball program and first appearance in the title tilt.
“I had no idea,” Mohawk coach Mike O’Lare said when asked if this is what he envisioned a district title at Mohawk would look like. “I’ve been paying to get in here quite a bit in 14 years. I’ve paid a lot of money to sit up there and watch.
“You can’t imagine what it would feel like. Even now. Because it didn’t go the way maybe we felt it was going to go. We were not a great defensive team. But to just continue to buy in throughout the game and get better as the game went on was a huge credit to how these girls fought defensively, to just frustrate a good Beaver team.”
Mohawk (22-3) will represent the WPIAL as the district’s No. 1 seed in the PIAA playoffs. The Lady Warriors will take on the fourth-place representative — United — out of District 6 at 7:30 p.m. Friday at New Castle High’s Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
It was the second championship-game loss in the last three years for the Lady Bobcats (21-4). Beaver lost in the Class 4A final in 2018 to North Catholic, 50-49.
“This one, I think you can get over because we got our butts whooped,” Beaver coach Greg Huston said. “When you get your butts whooped, you know you deserve to lose.”
Huston is a former Neshannock High varsity girls basketball coach.
The Lady Bobcats are the No. 2 seed out of the WPIAL in the state playoffs and will battle the third-place team out of District 10 — Northwestern — at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Sewickley Academy.
Despite being familiar with each other from the two prior section matchups, neither team got started quickly. The teams were deadlocked at 5 after the first eight minutes.
“I think a lot of it was nerves,” Lady Warriors junior Nadia Lape said. “A lot of nerves played into it, just that first quarter for both teams.”
Said O’Lare, “I said, guys I can help you in a lot of ways, I can’t help you in the first four minutes. I know the excitement and the energy, but I didn’t expect it to be 5-5.
“We got to the end of the first quarter, I said it’s like it’s 0-0, let’s settle down now.”
And senior standout Karly McCutcheon helped Mohawk regain its composure. The West Liberty recruit, who came in averaging 17 points a game, drained a 3-pointer 29 seconds into the second quarter to give the Lady Warriors the lead for good at 8-5.
“Karly hit a big 3 early in the second quarter to get us moving a little bit,” O’Lare said. “We were able to press on them. I know that one shot by her got us going a little more.”
McCutcheon was limited to eight points, but she was instrumental in moving the ball around and helping lead the strong defensive effort.
“I think we were ready to play,” McCutcheon said of the team’s struggles early on. “It’s just another court and hoops and a ball that we play with every day.
“We were trying to keep the game as regular as we usually play. We do like to play fast and shoot a lot of 3s and keep the game moving. It was slower today, but we still got the shots we wanted.”
The Lady Bobcats went over seven minutes without scoring. Beaver tied the game at 5 in the first quarter with 2:28 to go. The Lady Bobcats finally broke the drought on a Payton List field goal with 3:11 remaining in the opening half to cut the Mohawk lead to 13-7.
“Basketball is just a game of runs,” Lady Warriors sophomore Jordan Radzyminski said. “We knew that we would have ours and they would have theirs. At the end of the day we needed to have the last one and the best one.”
Mohawk closed the opening half on an 8-2 run to forge a 21-9 margin at intermission. The Lady Warriors, though, couldn’t wait to get the second half started.
“I wanted to get them back out on that floor real fast,” O’Lare said. “We weren’t in there very long at all.
“I said listen, we have two quarters left. I didn’t have to tell them anything. They were in the right mindset. They understood what was going on.”
Beaver bounced back after the break, getting as close as 25-17 with 4:49 to go in the third on a field goal by Emma Pavelek.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from Greg and his team,” O’Lare said of the Beaver comeback. “Kids like Payton (List) and Emma (Pavelek) are fighters. They’re not going to come out in the second half and not have a plan.”
The Lady Warriors were able to withstand that flurry and score the last five points of the quarter to increase the lead to 30-17 going to the fourth.
Victory was never in doubt for Mohawk in the final frame.
“The fourth quarter was the slowest quarter for us,” Lady Warriors junior Hannah McDanel said. “We all said it, even when we went up to shoot a foul shot. We would say, this is going slow. But we know we’ve got it. We have to push through. We can’t get tired. We had to do what we did in the first half.”
O’Lare made wholesale lineup changes in the game’s waning moments, getting championship playing time for reserves Abby Shoaff, Isabella Schmidt, Alexa Kadilak, Ava Nulph and Abby Boehning.
Lape led Mohawk with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Paige Julian and McDanel added 11 points apiece.
McCutcheon pulled down five boards. Julian handed out five assists and McDanel recorded five steals.
“It’s unbelievable,” Julian said of the championship win. “We had this goal since last year. When we lost that playoff game last year (to Washington), we said we were going to make it here next year and we did. It took lots of hard work.”
Pavelek posted 10 markers to lead Beaver.