By Matt Popchock
The Shaler Titans came to Oakland Catholic High School in search of first place. What they ended up finding, according to head coach Eric Mozzetti, was themselves.
“We started playing basketball, instead of doing what we were doing for three quarters,” Mozzetti said. “They were in a fog…whether they wanted to win too badly or what, I don’t know, we just didn’t work as a team.
“And then it started to happen.”
After losing a comfortable lead at home to their rivals just over three weeks earlier, consensus No. 2 Shaler turned the tables by rallying through the fourth quarter with a 19-6 romp and slamming the door in the extra session of a 55-47 overtime triumph over consensus Quad-A No. 1 Oakland Catholic at the Donahue Pavilion Thursday night.
With its stunning comeback Shaler took away the Section 3 lead from the Eagles (7-1, 10-6) and clinched a playoff berth for the third consecutive season.
“We just really wanted to win this one, and after starting so poorly, we knew we needed to change,” said senior swingman and Niagara University recruit Val McQuade, who shook off a slow start to lead the Titans (8-1, 15-2) with 19 points. “We worked together and executed well in the fourth quarter.
“When they beat us the first time, we felt we never should’ve let it happen,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief, yet smiling ear to ear. “It’s such a big rivalry, and we’re so glad we beat them tonight.”
Shannon Powell, whose putback in the closing seconds of regulation–her only field goal of the second half–forced OT, provided much-needed support. The center added 16 points and six rebounds to keep this game close until McQuade got hers back.
“Shannon should’ve had 40 tonight,” Mozzetti boasted.
McQuade and Powell poured in four apiece in the opening period, with Oakland Catholic junior guard Corey Taglianetti nailing a pair of three-pointers to guide her team to a slim 14-11 edge. Taglianetti led the Eagles, who lost for just the second time against WPIAL Class AAAA competition, with 15 points and six rebounds.
Powell really made her presence felt by finishing the half with 11 of her 16, but Oakland Catholic continued outworking Shaler defensively, out-rebounding the Titans at a two-to-one clip, and dictated the tempo on offense against a unit that had allowed just 41.9 points per game, fifth-fewest in the classification.
The Eagles continued frustrating McQuade and company in the second half, as the Titans got into foul trouble and junior guard Bobbi Baker netted eight of her 12 points, including two of Oakland Catholic’s three three-pointers in the third quarter. A 26-21 tussle became a 39-24 runaway at one point.
But perhaps the hosts got a bit too conservative in their half-court offense, which went cold the rest of the game. Credit some of that to Shaler’s resilient defense, which effectively switched between zone and man-to-man and started pressuring the ball with increased ferocity. It forced turnovers and took advantage of Oakland Catholic’s efforts to simply eat up the clock, allowing Shaler to whittle the lead down to 39-30 early in the fourth.
Making matters worse for Oakland Catholic were its struggles from the foul line, and suddenly its own defense, which ranked just behind Shaler’s entering Thursday, was under siege. Oakland Catholic managed just two more field goals the rest of the night, both by Taglianetti, whose three-ball from the left side with 25 seconds left gave the Eagles a 45-43 edge after guard Kate Potter hit her second three-pointer and added a free throw to give Shaler its first lead at 43-42.
“They just shoot the ball from the outside. That’s what they do. So we just had to be more disciplined on the defensive side,” Mozzetti said.
“When Kate Potter hit three and made the and-one, that’s what really gave us a spark. We turned things around from there,” McQuade added.
After Powell’s second-chance bucket through heavy traffic under the glass made it 45-45, another Oakland Catholic turnover left Shaler enough time to win on an inbounds play, but the Eagles clogged the lane to deny that opportunity. Still, momentum had completely shifted to the visitors’ bench.
Sisters Haley and Hilary Sauer picked up where Shaler left off by each hitting jumpers down low at the beginning of the overtime, which was all the Titans needed. McQuade put the Eagles away with four free throws.
Not the easiest road for Shaler to travel to its ninth straight win, but Mozzetti and his girls will take it.
“That’s all we want…to control our own destiny.”
(UPDATE: Oakland Catholic clinched a playoff berth with a non-section win over Hempfield Saturday afternoon.)
For continuing coverage of WPIAL basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!