By Matt Popchock
Okay, so head coach Dennis Squeglia didn’t get everything he wanted from his team, which is more fleet-footed than most. But his team did give everything anyone could ask for, and it gave him the most important thing: another gold medal.
“We like to run, and as I said to them today, I wanted to get 40 in transition, 20 from our guards, and 20 up front,” he said.
Although Seton-LaSalle fell short of that aggregate goal, the Rebels (25-0) got offense just about every way imaginable, and used that transition game to capture back-to-back WPIAL championships with a 73-60 win over section rival Bishop Canevin (21-5) in the girls’ Class AA Final at the A.J. Palumbo Center Friday afternoon.
“It’s tough to beat someone three times. We had to beat KO (Keystone Oaks) three times in the semis, and today we drew Canevin three times, and we should. They’re the next best team in double-A, in my opinion,” Squeglia said. “To beat them three times is a tribute to these kids, and how hard they work, and what they do.”
His 2011-12 squad became just the 12th girls’ team to go perfect through District 7 play since girls’ basketball became an official WPIAL sport in 1972.
In addition, Seton-LaSalle became the first WPIAL girls’ team to successfully defend a Class AA title since Greensburg Central Catholic 2006-07.
“It feels amazing,” said junior center Natalie Piaggesi. “You can’t expect it, and we couldn’t overlook any team, but it’s the best feeling in the world.”
It would have happen without Piaggesi, often in the middle of those sprints to the forecourt, finishing plays with unmatched consistency. She made ten of her 14 shots and led the field with 20 points.
“She’s like the silent killer. She gets that extra rebound, that extra shot. She’s worked very hard on the inside. That was her contribution today, and we’re going to continue to need those contributions,” Squeglia said.
The Crusaders tried to match that work ethic, but through the end of the third quarter, they were still down 52-39, merely trading blows with Seton-LaSalle’s deadly attack.
They wouldn’t go quietly into the night–er, day–the way 2011 silver medalist Jeannette did. Erin Waskowiak, one of the premier shooters in western Pennsylvania, led them with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting to complement five rebounds. Carly Forse, who brought Canevin within seven with 1:30 left, willingly got her nose dirty against the Rebels’ fearless inside game, and Celina DiPietro hit four three-pointers to keep the game respectable.
But the Crusaders, who just couldn’t get out of their own way, turned the ball over 28 times, and Seton-LaSalle made them pay before they could seriously threaten its repeat bid.
“That’s why we scheduled all those difficult teams from the start,” Squeglia said, referring to formative early-season wins against eventual Quad-A champion Mount Lebanon and defending Class A champion North Catholic. “I told them to just keep playing. We knew we were good enough to have a shot. We just had to take care of what we had to.”
Sophomore forward Naje Gibson faced mounting pressure all day, shooting an uncommon 5-of-12, but scored 11 of her 17 in the first half, and finished with ten boards. Thanks to her early success, Seton-LaSalle led 39-28 at the break.
“They made us work hard. They worked hard to get here, but so did we. I think we wanted it more,” Gibson said. “We knew we were the better team. We just had to go out and play like it.”
“We wanted to get an early lead, and we wanted them not to be able to hold the ball,” Squeglia said.
His girls will definitely want to hold onto the ball from this historic win, though, to him, it’s merely what we previously indicated: win No. 25 of a possible thirty.
“We talked about focus coming into this weekend, and we said we want to play five more games.”
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)