East Xtra: Slow start costly for Oakland Catholic

As a player at Oakland Catholic, her experiences in WPIAL championship games ended on a positive note.

In her first appearance as a head coach at the WPIAL championship game, the ending was disappointing but her initial impression was just as special for Oakland Catholic coach Shannon Boyle.

"It was an amazing feeling just walking in," Boyle said. "It is one of those times in your life when you walk into the A.J. Palumbo Center and time just stands still. There are so many people there, it is so loud, it is an amazing feeling as a coach."

As a player Boyle started on two WPIAL championship-winning teams.

"I told the players, you have to feel the magic in this room," Boyle said. "Let that magic run through your veins and use that excitement. I am glad they got to experience that."

There was plenty of magic on Oakland's side Friday night. It overcame what seemed to be an insurmountable 20-6 deficit after one quarter against a strong Mt. Lebanon team. The Eagles chiseled away to close within 11 by halftime, four entering the fourth quarter and eventually took a 47-45 lead with 5:03 left.

In the end Mt. Lebanon's poise and experience won out as the Blue Devils survived, 58-49.

Mt. Lebanon was playing in its third consecutive WPIAL final. No one on Oakland Catholic had played at the Palumbo Center prior to Friday night.

The first quarter was as dominating in Mt. Lebanon's favor as it was shocking. Top-seeded Oakland had only lost one game all season, a 60-52 regular-season finale to WPIAL Class AA champion Seton-LaSalle. That was also the only occasion any team topped 50 points against the Eagles. After one quarter Mt. Lebanon was up, 20-6, on pace to score 80 points.

"It was eye-opening to my players," Boyle said. "I think Mt. Lebanon just came out so strong. We didn't come out that way. It was tough playing from behind but they are fighters and I really felt like they fought to the end."

Oakland had only allowed 35 points per game during the regular season.

"After the first quarter, coach Shannon just looked at us and said 'We don't even let teams score 35 points on us in a game and we allowed a team to score 20 in the first quarter,'" Oakland senior guard Bobbi Baker recalled.

"She really motivated us, told us that we were way better than we were playing. I didn't think twice about it personally. I knew we weren't going to give up and that we were going to come back."

Baker, a Baldwin resident, led the Oakland charge. She scored a game-high 25 points, including 16 points in the final 16 minutes of the game.

What hurt Oakland the most was the free-throw line and outside shooting. It went 5 of 18 from beyond the arc and only made it to the free-throw line nine times as opposed to 31 trips by Mt. Lebanon.

"I definitely think they showed a lot of heart," Boyle said. "It would have been easy for them to get down on themselves. We always talk, basketball gives us four quarters for a reason. We need to make the most of every single minute. I was really glad to see them feed into that and know the game wasn't over."

The team also knows the season is not over. Oakland now enters the PIAA playoffs where it will face District 6 champion Altoona on Friday at 6 p.m. at Hollidaysburg Area High School.

When Boyle was playing, Oakland reached the 2000 PIAA final where it lost to District 1 champion Cheltenham by two points.

"Sometimes your losses teach you more about yourself than a win ever could," Boyle said. "I think they are going to bounce back, we still have goals and every day is an opportunity."

The PIAA playoffs represent one last opportunity for the Oakland seniors Jess Mrdjenovich, Corey Taglianetti, Audra Phibbs, Chrissy Berenato, Rachel Vigliotti, Iffie Uwazie and Baker.

"I had been looking forward to playing in a WPIAL championship game since my freshman year," Baker said. "I knew we would probably make it my senior year.

"I think we will be fine in states now. I am personally really proud of how our team did at that game. We showed a lot of heart coming back and I don't think we are going to take it as a negative. We are going to turn it around as a positive."



First Published 2012-03-07 23:43:55