It took a full half of basketball for Greater Latrobe to find its rhythm Friday night during the Lady Wildcats’ season opener against Franklin Regional following Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-week shutdown of winter sports.
Greater Latrobe had a dozen first-half turnovers and got into early foul trouble, allowing Franklin Regional to take a four-point halftime lead.
But the Lady Wildcats switched gears to start the third quarter, opening with 11 unanswered points en route to a 51-38 victory in their first WPIAL Class 5A, Section 4 matchup of the season.
“It’s just awesome they were able to play,” Greater Latrobe head coach Mark Burkardt said. “We’ve been looking forward to it for over three weeks now.”
PIAA teams got the green light to resume practices Monday after Wolf’s temporary shutdown of high school athletics in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). That gave Burkardt and the Lady Wildcats just four days to practice before Friday’s game.
“They realized that we needed to focus a little,” Burkardt said about his players heading into the third quarter, “And they did a really good job of focusing in the second half.”
Greater Latrobe (1-0, 1-0) had eight first-quarter turnovers and 12 in the first half, caused partly by Franklin Regional’s full-court press.
The Lady Panthers led, 11-10, after the first and 26-22 after two quarters of play.
But the Lady Wildcats outscored their opponent, 15-4, in the third quarter, and 29-12 overall in the second half — while cutting their turnovers by more than half, with just five in the final two quarters.
What made the difference?
“I got to play my starters. We had two of our starters and the sixth girl with two early fouls, so they didn’t play the majority of the first half,” Burkardt said. “We were able to get back to our bigger lineup.”
That included 6-foot-2 junior Anna Rafferty, who scored seven second-half points and 13 overall, including 14 rebounds and five blocks — and 6-foot-1 sophomore Emma Blair, who scored all eight of her points in the second half while collecting 16 rebounds. Both helped Greater Latrobe dominate the glass on either end of the floor.
“We talked about getting the ball inside,” Burkardt said of his halftime speech. “That was the game plan, because we knew they didn’t have a lot of size. Our goal was to use our strengths that way.”
Senior Ava Vitula matched Rafferty with a team-high 13 points, including seven in the second quarter.
“I told (Vitula) she played awesome. She had a really good game and shot the ball well,” Burkardt said. “Just good senior leadership out there when everybody else was in foul trouble.”
Camille Dominick contributed six points off the bench for the Lady Wildcats. Elle Snyder added four points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Sophia Yaniga led Franklin Regional with 11 points, scoring eight in the first half while Greater Latrobe dealt with foul trouble. Franklin Regional’s Sophia Reitz contributed 10 points — all in the first half.
Franklin Regional led throughout much of the sloppy first quarter, in which the two teams combined for 12 turnovers. Rafferty laid it off the glass at the end of the first to cut Franklin Regional’s lead to 11-10.
Midway through the second quarter, Reitz extended the Lady Panthers’ lead to 19-12, but Vitula later cut it to three with a 3-pointer at the top of the key to make it 22-19.
Trailing by four at the half, Greater Latrobe opened with a 11-0 run to take a seven-point lead as Blair and Rafferty combined for 13 third-quarter points. Lexie Weatherton made a nice dish inside to Rafferty to put Greater Latrobe ahead, 33-26.
From there, the Lady Panthers never got closer than within five points. The Lady Wildcats went 10-for-13 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to secure an opening-season 11-point victory.
Greater Latrobe hosts McKeesport Area (1-0, 0-0) at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
“We are going to see more of the same press type — extreme pressure from McKeesport,” Burkardt said. “They are going to play a similar game to (Franklin Regional). … Because when you’re bigger, they are going to try to take advantage. They are hoping they can take advantage of pressuring you with the basketball.”
FRANKLIN REGIONAL (38)
Schirmer 0-0-0; Penrod 2-0-4; Kelly 2-0-5; Yaniga 5-1-11; M. Brush 2-1-5; Musto 1-1-3; Reitz 4-2-10; Keough 0-0-0. Totals, 16-5(14)—38
GREATER LATROBE (51)
Vitula 3-6-13; Snyder 2-0-4; Ridilla 0-0-0; Watson 0-3-3; Rafferty 6-1-13; Weatherton 0-3-3; Dominick 3-0-6; Li. Planinsek 0-1-1; Le. Planisek 0-0-0; Blair 4-0-8. Totals, 18-14(21)—51.
Score by Quarters
Franklin Regional 11 15 4 8 — 38 Greater Latrobe 10 12 15 14 — 51
Three-point field goals: Kelly; Vitula