With a handful of freshman on its roster, the Upper St. Clair girls basketball team may be the team of the future in the WPIAL.
The Panthers, however, believe their time is now as the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs loom.
USC made a statement with an impressive 53-40 win against Mt. Lebanon in its Section 2 finale.
Though they are 13-7 overall, the Panthers have shown throughout the regular season that they are on par with many of the playoff teams. USC competed well with Trinity (17-4) and North Catholic (21-1) before falling 56-50 and 44-31, respectively. The Hillers and North Catholic are among the top teams in Class 5A and 4A.
“The playoffs bring a whole new kind of experience,” Upper St. Clair head coach Pete Serio said.
“We have shown flashes all year,” he added, “of being able to play with the best teams.”
Serio said a loss to Bethel Park after USC took an early lead was tough to swallow. He said Sam Prunzik’s game-winning shot against Baldwin may have provided a turning point for his team.
“Baldwin gave us some confidence we were lacking,” he said. “I think our lack of closing out games has to do with inexperience and age.”
USC started the 2019-20 campaign with no returning starters. The Panthers’ five freshmen see significant minutes on the court.
Mia Brown leads USC in scoring. The ninth-grader averages 11 points and three steals per game. Ava Keating averages 10 points and five rebounds per game while Kate Robbins adds eight points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Prunzik, who Serio said is the team’s “spark” ranks third on the team in minutes played, and Paige Dellicarri recently returned to action.
“She is 100% healthy and we expect great things from her as well,” Serio said of Dellicarri.
Serio said he anticipated a period of adjustment for his young team, despite rolling up a 55-0 record as eight-graders.
“We knew going into this season that the freshmen would struggle at times,” he said. “Being 14 years old and playing in our section was never going to be easy. They have grown throughout this season and are now starting to realize what they can do and to not be afraid to do it.”
Distinguished basketball bloodlines determined the freshmen had plenty of upside.
Brown’s father, Ryan, played on USC’s 1994 team that reached the WPIAL finals, while her uncle Travis played point guard on the Panthers’ 1996 WPIAL championship team. Her aunts, Jamie and Kerry, played on two WPIAL title teams in the 1990s. Both played at Davidson.
Keating is the daughter of Philip Keating. He guided Mt. Lebanon to the WPIAL and Western Regional finals before leading New York University to the NCAA Division III finals in 1994.
Robbins is the daughter of Kim Seaver. The Mt. Lebanon standout was the Almanac MVP in 1996 before playing at Virginia Tech.
Prunzik’s father also excelled at Lebo. Jeff Prunzik played in the Dapper Dan Roundball Classic. Her uncle, Dan, ran track and played football in addition to basketball at Lebo. He went on to play Division I football at Maryland.
USC also has relied upon the experience of its upperclassmen.
Juniors Emily Rocco and Alex Prunzik have played significant roles as well as seniors Casey Bakayza, Sara Steve and Molly James.
The Panthers other veterans include seniors Jillian Rocco and Hillary Cluley along with juniors Isabella Psillidis, Alexandra Pantelis, Sarah Zadrozny and Abigail John.
“They have brought experience and stability,” Serio said. “Each one has stepped up when asked, particularly over the last couple weeks.”
USC used that combined effort to defeat Lebo 53-40. Brown buried four, 3-point field goals in the win and finished with 18 points. Keating added 15 points.
“It was a big win,” Serio said. “Anytime you can one of the best teams in Class 6A, it’s a big win.”