Gateway girls win 1st WPIAL championship
Jordan Edwards said she just had to believe the ball was going to go in.
On a day when neither team was putting too many shots through the hoop, the faith one was going to fall might have been tested a few times, but when it mattered the most Edwards stepped up and sank a shot.
And it finished off a double-digit comeback to give No. 7-seeded Gateway its first WPIAL girls basketball title.
Edwards hit a jumper with 3.7 seconds remaining for the winning basket in a 29-27 victory over No. 8 Oakland Catholic (17-9) in the Class 5A final Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
“When I let it go, I felt really good about it,” said Edwards, who is a Niagara recruit. “It rolled off my fingers the right way, and I felt confident it was going in. We had been working on (that play) all year, so it was a good shot to take.
“We’ll have this with us for the rest of our lives, and it’s an awesome feeling. No one can take this away from us, and that’s pretty awesome.”
The Gators (23-3) trailed by 11 points in the fourth and finished the game on a 17-4 run. Edwards hit a 3-pointer to tie the score with 3:12 remaining. The winner came off an inbounds play with eight seconds remaining. Mary Kromka passed the ball to Edwards at half court, and she dribbled past a screen from Annie Garness before pulling up just shy of the paint and releasing a shot that was nothing but net. Edwards scored nine of her team-best 14 points in the fourth.
“You couldn’t have written a better script than having our only senior making a clutch shot to seal it for us,” Gateway coach Curtis Williams said. “She doesn’t get some of the accolades that maybe some of the other Division I recruits get. It’s pretty sweet that she was able to do that for us and win us our first championship.”
Oakland Catholic had possession for most of the final minute of regulation and was setting up for the last shot, but Cierra Christian was called for an illegal screen with 8.3 seconds remaining. Christian, who transferred from Gateway to Oakland Catholic after last season, fouled out on the play and finished with 14 points.
“I never expected that, and I never would expect a ref to make that call in a tie game with eight seconds left,” Oakland Catholic coach Shannon Kearney said. “We’ll go back and look at the film and see if it was a foul. I felt like they let Gateway play a little rough at the end and was really surprised to see that call made.
“I don’t know if it was a foul or not without looking at the film, but you can never blame a game on officials. They don’t shoot the ball one time.”
Gateway and Oakland Catholic finished second and third in Section 2, and the teams split in the regular season. Both teams scored in the 30s in each game.
They brought their defense again Saturday.
Oakland Catholic was 8 for 38 from the field, and Gateway finished 11 for 38.
The Gators were limited to 12 points through three quarters and were on pace to break West Mifflin’s 19 points for the lowest scoring output in a championship game before they broke out in the fourth. They were held without a field goal in the second quarter and went 12 minutes overall between baskets, spanning the first to third quarter.
The 56 combined points were the second fewest in a WPIAL girls final dating to the 1978 Class A final when Turtle Creek defeated St. Elizabeth, 27-26.
Gateway four made field goals through three quarters but went 7 for 12 in the fourth.
“I think it came down to nerves,” Edwards said of the team’s cold-shooting. “It was a WPIAL championship, and the adrenaline was pumping. We were rushing our shots and weren’t taking out best shots, but luckily enough we got our shots to fall when it mattered most.”
For Oakland Catholic, it was the second consecutive year it had a lead in the fourth quarter of the Class 5A final only to see it slip away.
“I’ll have to go back and look at the film of the fourth quarter, but we stuck to our game plan,” Kearney said. “We tried to make it very hard to defend them in the post as best we could and play (Edwards) as best as we could. She’s a great player. She’s going to play Division I basketball. Great players step up and make big shots, and she did that.”
Gateway plays Trinity in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, and Oakland Catholic faces Hickory, the third-place team out of District 10. Both games will be March 10.
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.