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“Mr. High School Sports” – Girls’ Basketball Game of the Week

By Matt Popchock
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Oakland Catholic vs. North Allegheny

North Allegheny’s Kelli Brennan is double-teamed by Oakland Catholic during the first half of Monday’s game at NA. One of the keys for the Eagles was containing Brennan, who finished with just six points.

Before Monday’s game the North Allegheny A.D. Bob Bozzutto and girls’ basketball coach Sherri McConnell led a brief ceremony in honor of senior guard Kelli Brennan for topping the 1,000-career-point plateau last week.

Unfortunately for Brennan and the Tigers, it would be the high-water mark of their evening.

Oakland Catholic, the Post-Gazette’s No. 3 Quad-A team, opened the floodgates, getting contributions from top to bottom, and limited Brennan to six points, five rebounds, and four assists in an impressive 62-45 romp over No. 5 NA in Section 3 action at North Allegheny High School.

The Eagles (5-0, 8-3) used their zone defense to keep North Allegheny away from the basket and out of the game early, thus maintaining their slim lead over Shaler atop the section, while the Tigers (2-2, 9-2) fall into a third-place tie with arch-rival North Hills.  Brennan had to fight off double- and triple-teams much of the night and didn’t pick up her second field goal until 3:30 into the fourth quarter.

Bobbi Baker, one of four Oakland Catholic starters to score in double figures, led the offensive charge with 15 points, eight of them in a very productive third quarter, while grabbing eight rebounds.  Fellow guard Corey Taglianetti, made an impressive showing as well, scoring from the outside and sparking the Eagles’ transition game with 13 points, including three three-pointers, and four assists.

With her mother, Pitt women’s basketball coach Agnes Berenato, looking on, forward Chrissy Berenato rounded out a big night for Oakland Catholic’s junior class, by grabbing four boards and racking up 12 points–four in each of the first three periods.

So how were they able to come to Wexford and blow out a solid team in a place that, last time we checked, isn’t an easy place for any visiting team to win?

“I just tried to focus,” said a smiling Baker, who came in averaging over 13 points per game.  “Focus is our word for every practice, every game.  It’s what we try to build our team around.”

The more focused team at the outset was definitely Oakland Catholic.  Baker and Taglianetti each hit threes, and Berenato took advantage of open looks under the basket set up by feisty defense and good ball movement, as the Eagles opened on a 9-0 run and ended the first quarter with a 15-9 advantage they never relinquished.  The trio cleaned the glass most efficiently, and so did the rest of their teammates, holding NA without a rebound until late in the period.

North Allegheny picked up its defensive poise in the second quarter, and the Tigers tried to use a shooting lull by Oakland Catholic as an opportunity to claw their way back into the game.  NA out-rebounded 15-12 for the half, eventually finishing with a 30-22 margin.  However, the Eagles’ defense kept them afloat by continuing to take away easy scoring chances, and their “O” eventually fed off the momentum of that “D,” giving the Eagles an unexpectedly comfortable 26-16 halftime lead.

“We aren’t usually a first half team, but when we came out on the court, we just looked at each other and said, let’s make some noise,” Baker remarked.

“That’s been a goal for us,” head coach Shannon Boyle added, regarding the strong start.  “If we meet those goals, we’re going to keep coming out on top.”

Statistically the third quarter has actually been the Eagles’ strongest suit, and that was the case again Monday.  Oakland Catholic outscored NA 21-10, and their offense, like their defense, was relentless…so much, in fact, that the Eagles led by as many as 23 at one point in the frame.  Oakland Catholic, which forced 21 turnovers a game, also padded that number throughout the second half.

“We’ve been focusing a lot on our team defense [in practice], believing in it as a team, and letting the defense create our offense,” Boyle said.

The biggest bright spot for North Allegheny in the half was the chemistry between Brennan and Jessica Mancosh, who finished with 11 points and knocked down two of her three three-pointers in the third.  Junior forward Alexis Aiken got going and also chipped in 11 points, along with six rebounds, but it was too little, too late.

This wasn’t necessarily supposed to be the Eagles’ year.  But after handing double-digit defeats to two top-five opponents in a three-day span, one can’t help but pencil them into the championship conversation.

“Our goal has been simply to get better, every single practice, every single day,” Boyle said.  “And we’re staying focused on that goal.”

There’s that magic word…focus…and because of it, the Eagles’ long-term aspirations now seem to be coming into focus.

(Click here to relive any or all of the action from Monday’s game, thanks to my friends at the North Allegheny Sports Network and the MSA Sports Network.)

For continuing coverage of WPIAL basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!

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