Shooting struggles lead to playoff exit for Westmont Hilltop in girls 3A quarterfinal against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

Mar. 18—KITTANNING — Midway through the first quarter of Friday's PIAA Class 3A quarterfinal at Armstrong Junior-Senior High School, Westmont Hilltop's Ella Brawley scored five points in the span of 40 seconds to break a 2-all tie.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart surged ahead with a pair of 3-pointers to grab the lead late in the first quarter, never relinquishing it as the the District 7 fifth-place Chargers reached the PIAA semifinal for the first time in program history thanks to a 47-32 win over the Hilltoppers.

Westmont Hilltop (27-3) mustered 10 points between Brawley's bucket with 2:40 left in the first quarter and the end of the third quarter, falling behind 33-17 as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (22-8) steadily increased its edge during the middle quarters.

The Hilltoppers drop the curtain on an extended campaign that saw them claim the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference title while taking part in valuable postseason action.

"It's just a huge learning experience," Westmont Hilltop coach Brittany Eisenhuth said. "You can't teach stuff like this. Coming here and losing, it hurts. It sucks now, but you learn a lot from games like this.

"They're just going to come back, work hard and get better."

According to Chargers coach Don Ekerle, his team has made its run through the postseason by overcoming early struggles.

"The last six games we've played, we've found ourselves down either 7-2, 8-2 or 9-2 in the first quarter," Ekerle said.

"Nobody was really rattled, but we needed to get a little on track offensively. The kids found a way to do that."

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart went ahead 8-7 late in the first on 3-pointers from Claudia Ierullo and Mia Grisafi. The Chargers outscored Westmont Hilltop 14-6 in the second with seven points from Kyleigh Nagy setting the pace. A trey from Grisafi, who led all scorers with 18 points, punctuated the Chargers' second-quarter output.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart continued to frustrate the Hilltoppers throughout the third quarter, limiting the District 6 runner-up to a 3-pointer from Christiana Gordon and a free throw by Morgan Faight over those eight minutes.

A corner 3 from Ierullo just before the buzzer in the third gave the Chargers a 16-point lead.

Eisenhuth noted that early misses led to a passive approach on the floor when the Hilltoppers were in possession.

"We were kind of playing apprehensive," Eisenhuth said. "As soon as someone missed a shot, they didn't want to shoot any more. It got to the point where it's like, 'You got an open shot, you gotta shoot it.' What do you know, we started hitting some shots. Girls that are used to playing a certain role had to take on a bigger role tonight.

"It took them a while to get into it, but they never gave up."

The Hilltoppers found an offensive groove during the fourth quarter with Kendal Shingler scoring the team's first seven points of the frame, helping to cut the lead to 35-24. After a bucket from Ierullo, Shingler answered with her second 3-pointer of the frame, making it 37-27.

The Hilltoppers couldn't get closer as the Chargers answered with a trey from Grisafi. Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was able to salt the game away with a four-corners offense — after muddling through an aggressive full-court press — a bucket from Emma Ficorilli and five free throws from three different shooters.

Shingler led the Hilltoppers with 12 points while Gordon netted eight with seven rebounds.

Zoey Lynch also grabbed seven rebounds.

Keeping the dynamic Gordon mostly quiet on the scoresheet was a point of emphasis in the Chargers' planning.

"We know that she's a heck of a basketball player," Ekerle said. "Our job was to take her a little out of her game, especially the perimeter shot.

"She hit a couple against us, but we felt that she had the ability to shoot a lot more, so we forced her to moving the ball toward the basket more."

The Chargers' Kara Bridge had 11 rebounds.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart will face District 6 champion River Valley, a 54-21 winner over Shady Side Academy, in Monday's semifinal at a site and time to be determined.

Shawn Curtis is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5085. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnCurtis430.