B-A girls one win away from first-ever title
By Michael Boytim
Bellwood-Antis will be attempting to win its first PIAA basketball championship today when its girls team takes on Philadelphia’s West Catholic in the Class 2A title game at Hershey’s Giant Center at noon.
“This means everything to my teammates and me,” Bellwood-Antis sophomore Alli Campbell said. “We have been working every day in practice, in summer leagues, for this, the ultimate goal.”
The Lady Blue Devils earned the opportunity by beating Blairsville, the team they lost to in the district playoffs, in the PIAA semifinals on March 19.
“It’s a great accomplishment for our kids,” Bellwood-Antis coach Jim Swaney said. “We understand the pain of losing the semifinal game like last year, and I was proud of the way our kids stayed together. When you think of our year as a whole, and the things they have accomplished, we are very proud of them.”
Bellwood-Antis made it to the state championship in girls basketball in 1990 but came up short of bringing home the gold ball.
The Lady Blue Devils’ opponent will be West Catholic, which topped Penns Manor 50-48 in overtime, last Monday. Bellwood-Antis defeated that same Penns Manor team, 76-48, on March 1 in the District 6 consolation game.
West Catholic’s record is just 16-12, but the Burrs play in an extremely tough league and have impressive victories such as a 54-39 triumph over WPIAL champion Vincentian on Dec. 10.
“Their record is deceiving, because they play in the Philadelphia Catholic League,” Swaney said. “It’s a whole other story in that league, and they are going to be good. It’s a nice challenge.”
West Catholic’s top forward, Kyliah Singletary, scored the game-winning layup with 4.9 seconds to play in the win over Penns Manor, and freshman guard Destiny McPhaul had a team-high 22 points off the bench.
“They are quick, but not real big,” Swaney said. “They live off dribble-drive and kicks. They are deeper than us and young like us. They have some kids that look like they can shoot.”
Though both teams have just one senior — Tina Hollen for B-A and Jaelyn Durrett for West Catholic — Swaney said his team’s experience is greater than their age.
“On paper we are young, but experience-wise we are not,” Swaney said. “We have kids who have played a lot of basketball on a high level for a lot of years. Our kids are not intimidated by a lot if anything.”
Following the Lady Blue Devils’ loss to Blairsville in the district playoffs, Swaney made a point to make Bellwood’s focus more about itself and not its opponent.
“That has helped us,” Campbell said. “After the first Blairsville game, we started focusing on what we need to focus on more than the other team, and that’s helped us a lot, just preparing and getting better at what we do.”
Campbell is the most heralded player on either side and comes into the game averaging 26.1 points per contest. B-A’s Sakeria Haralson is averaging a double-double with 12.7 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
“It’s a luxury to have a kid night in and night out that you can jot down for 24 or 25 points a game,” Swaney said. “She’s a great player, but we have proven we’re not a one-man team. I like the makeup of our team and that’s what we are; we are team.”
When the Lady Blue Devils are on their game, they can put away teams early with their accurate outside shooting.
“Hopefully we shoot well. That will cure a lot of ill wills,” Swaney said. “We did that against Chartiers-Houston and put the game away early. We’re going to have to defend penetration, get out on shooters and play aggressive man-to-man defense. We need to run a good offense. If we do that, I feel good about walking away with a state title.”
Both Bellwood-Antis and West Catholic have had a week to prepare and should have plenty of energy in reserve — something that will likely play a key role in today’s game.
“Whatever team plays the hardest and with passion and energy and from the tip to the buzzer is going to come out on top,” Campbell said. “We just have to play with each other, for each other, and have fun.”