PIAA playoffs: Lady Dragons seek more history against Pine-Richland

The Warren girls basketball team has reached new heights this season, and they’ll look to add another chapter tonight.

Awaiting them in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs are the Pine-Richland Rams, the No. 3 seed out of the WPIAL.

A win would mark the first state playoff win in program history, but this is a team that has been knocking down barriers all season.

The rest of the state is beginning to pay attention, too, as Warren checks in at No. 9 in the latest Class AAAA state rankings by the Harrisburg Patriot-News.

“I don’t discount my beam being able to do anything at this point,” said coach Lisa LaVan. “They’ve proven themselves.”

To beat Pine-Richland, they will have to slow down 5-8 junior guard Amanda Kalin. The accolades for Kalin are impressive, beginning with a 55-49 WPIAL first round win over McKeesport in which she exploded for a career-high 41 points. This came on the heels of her surpassing the 1,000-point plateau for her career, which was followed by the standout guard giving a verbal commitment to play in college for Duquesne.

“We need to be aware of where she is and what she’s doing,” LaVan said. “We’ve obviously never faced anybody of her caliber this season, but we have in past seasons. We’ve defended some very good basketball players through the years and really, you’re never going to completely stop them. Your goal is to slow them down. We know we have to slow her down. It’s what our zone has done all season for us. Our zone has really stepped it up. What’s nice about the zone is it’s not just one person shutting her down, it’s the entire team.”

The Rams’ 56-40 win over Hempfield in the WPIAL quarterfinals saw a much more balanced attack, as 5-11 Chelsea Rourke, P-R’s tallest player, led the way with 17 points, while Kalin had 12, Gianna DeTemple 11 and Caitlin Byerly nine. Offensively, P-R is very much an up-tempo, run-and-gun team, which presents an interesting matchup against Warren’s suffocating defense.

“I think defensively, our length and size is really going to help us,” LaVan said. “I have no doubt they’re coming into the game thinking we’re big and slow and they’re going to be able to push it up the floor on us. But we’ve been able to get back in transition all season long, so I don’ think it’s going to be an issue.”

Offensively, the Lady Dragons will look to take advantage of their edge in height, as well as a P-R team that LaVan believes can be undisciplined at times on the defensive end.

“It seem like they almost buy time on defense so they can get back on offense,” she said. “It’s very helter-skelter on defense. They do it based on panic, with the thought of pressuring and doing what they can to get an easy bucket on the other end.”

The Lady Dragons won the District 10 championship based largely on great defense, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of putting up big numbers on the offensive end.

In D.J. Hahn and Paige Wilson, they have two 1,000-point scorers that rank third and fifth in program history in career points.

Fellow senior Lizzy Marsh stepped up big against McDowell on the offensive end, and gives the Lady Dragons another weapon in the post.

Freshman guard Margo Loutzenhiser comes off the bench, providing instant offense and energy. Maddie Loutzenhiser and Rachel Wilson were superb on the defense end in the District 10 title game win, and they are also capable scorers.

“I think we can win a number of ways,” LaVan said. “I think we’ve proven that throughout the season. If you look at the Cardinal O’Hara game (69-61), we didn’t necessarily win that game, but we played up-tempo and were successful at it.”

Warren has proven capable of winning a number of different ways, and there’s no question they will do whatever it takes to put themselves in the best position to try and win the program’s first ever state playoff game.

“It’s a great matchup,” LaVan said. “The stars have aligned pretty well.”