PITTSBURGH – According to the old sports adage, it’s harder to defend a championship than it is to win one for the first time.
The South Fayette girls basketball team, however, made winning a second straight WPIAL 5A championship look easy.
Ava Leroux and Maddie Webber combined for 33 points as South Fayette overcame a halftime deficit and pulled away in the second half for a 64-49 victory over Oakland Catholic in the WPIAL title game Saturday evening at the Petersen Events Center.
It was the Lions’ second straight WPIAL championship and their 18th consecutive victory. The Lions (24-2) only losses came against Norwin, 43-40, on Dec. 15 and against St. Thomas Aquinas, 50-49, on Dec. 28 during a holiday tournament in Delawared.
“A different feel,” South Fayette coach Bryan Bennett said of the second championship. “We’ve been the hunted all year. Last year, we were the hunters. We learned back in December, against Norwin that there are no more nights off. There is a target on our back and we have to come ready to play. … Two different feels because of the scenarios.”
The 15-point win over Oakland Catholic was the closest game South Fayette has played since the regular season, when they ran the table in Section 4, posting a 10-0 record.
The Lions pulled away during the final 16 minutes for another double-digit postseason victory. South Fayette won its four WPIAL playoff games by an average of 30.5 points.
With Webber, a Villanova recruit, slowed by foul trouble in the first half and limited to only six minutes of court time, top-seeded South Fayette trailed second-seeded Oakland Catholic 25-23 at halftime.
“To be up at the half by two when she was out of the game, I don’t think we capitalized on some opportunities,” Oakland Catholic coach Eddie Benton said.
Webber drew her second foul late in the first quarter, with South Fayette leading 11-5, and Bennett made the decision to keep the Lions’ leading scorer on the bench for the entire second period.
“It was not an easy one, I’ll tell you that,” Bennett said. “We felt that if we could ride it out and keep the game close, it was better to keep her on the bench and prevent a third foul.”
With Webber back in the lineup in the second half, the Lions moved ahead early in the third quarter and never looked back.
A key play in the quarter came in the final six seconds when Rachel Black, who finished with four points, stole the ball from an Oakland Catholic player in the Eagles’ backcourt and drove for an uncontested layup that put the Lions up 39-33.
South Fayette pushed its lead to double digits early in the fourth quarter. From that point, the Lions were able to utilize their delay game and forced Oakland Catholic to foul. The Lions made 13 of 15 free throws in the fourth quarter and 20 of 23 in the game.
Leroux led South Fayette in scoring with 17 points. She also grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds – five fewer than the entire Oakland Catholic team pulled down. The Lions had a 17-2 edge in second-chance points.
Webber finished with 16 points and point guard Lainey Yater scored 12, which included a 5-for-5 performance at the free-throw line.
Alexa Washington led Oakland Catholic (22-4) with 16 points and Rachel Haver had 15. The Eagles shot only 36 percent and made three of 15 three-point attempts.
The Lions opened PIAA tournament on March 11 hosting West York (13-13), the eighth-place finisher from District 3.
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