Franklin stuns Lady ’Canes in PIAA opener
Franklin (52) Vs. New Castle (46)

WEXFORD — It was a strange scene for the New Castle High girls basketball team Saturday.

Hands on hips. Heads down. Looks of confusion and astonishment.

Losing isn’t something associated with the Lady ’Canes.

Franklin used a 9-0 run early in the fourth quarter to rally for a 52-46 victory over New Castle in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs at North Allegheny High School.

“We were not the same team at all that we’ve been all year,” Lady ’Canes coach Luann Grybowski said. “We didn’t defend like we do, we didn’t pass like we do and we didn’t rebound.

“When you don’t do those three things, that results in a loss every time. It was somebody out on that floor playing that I didn’t know, that’s for sure.”

The loss snapped a 12-game win streak for the WPIAL champion Lady ’Canes (24-3). New Castle was appearing in the state playoffs for the sixth time in the last seven years.

The Lady ’Canes are 4-6 in the PIAA playoffs in that span. Three of the losses came at North Allegheny.

“This loss is really disappointing,” Grybowski said. “I really believed this group had the ability to at least get to the (state) championship.”

New Castle was ranked No. 1 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and seventh in the PIAA poll by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

The Lady Knights (22-5) advance to play Mercyhurst Prep (20-6) at 6 p.m. Wednesday Edinboro University. The Lady Lakers moved on with a 58-49 win over South Park.

Shelby Rodgers gave the Lady ’Canes their last lead at 32-30 on a field goal with 6:32 to play. However, she picked up her fourth foul in the backcourt just six seconds later.

“That fourth foul hurts you on the defensive end,” Grybowski said.

Rodgers, a senior who registered nine points and nine rebounds, fouled out with 1:08 remaining. She was 4 of 15 from the field.

Rodgers picked up her third foul with 2:24 remaining in the second quarter and sat the remainder of the half.

“Getting Rodgers in foul trouble helped us a great deal,” Franklin coach Todd Wetjen said. “She’s a major factor on the floor on both ends and it neutralizes her ability.”

Said Rodgers, “This is a disappointing end to our season. It was a bad shooting day. You’re going to have those and (Saturday) was mine.”

Natalie Hager began the pivotal 9-0 run for Franklin with a bucket with 6:16 to play to tie it at 32. Carissa Dolan gave the Lady Knights the lead for good at 34-32 when she drained a field goal at the 5:15 mark.

“I think that’s where they gained a lot of confidence,” Grybowski said. “We were never out of it, though.”

Autumn Witt buried a 3-pointer from the left with 4:38 to play for a 37-32 advantage. Hager capped the run when she cashed in a bucket with 4:10 remaining.

“We probably won the game right there,” Wetjen said of the run. “It opened the gap for us and gave us some breathing room.”

The Lady ’Canes could only get as close as 47-43. New Castle was 17 of 34 from the foul line, including 9 of 14 in the fourth period and 4 of 8 in the last 2:08.

“The foul shooting was absolutely horrendous,” Grybowski said. “We practice them every day and for whatever reason we just couldn’t hit them.”

Franklin was 19 of 31 from the foul line. The Lady Knights put the game away from the charity stripe, burying 13 of 18 attempts in the final frame.

“We were able to calmly knock down our free throws,” Wetjen said. “We did what we had to do to close out the game and that’s a great sign.”

Both teams struggled early, with each team registering three field goals in the first quarter. Saddie Gravatt gave Franklin a 7-5 lead with four seconds left in the first quarter. But Jazelle Dennis banged in a 3-pointer off the glass from halfcourt to close the frame with the Lady ’Canes clinging to an 8-7 buffer.

New Castle struggled most of the second quarter until waking up in the final two minutes. Trailing 16-14, the defense ignited a run to give the Lady ’Canes a 21-19 lead at the break.

Zynieckia Bester recorded a steal and took it the length of the floor to knot the count at 16 with 1:51 left. Another Lady Knights turnover resulted in Kaylynn Waters draining a 3-pointer for a 19-16 advantage just 20 seconds later.

After a Hager field goal and a foul shot by Gravatt, Waters took a steal all the way in for a layup with 11 seconds left to close the half.

“We didn’t play well at all in the first half, but I told the girls we’re right there in contention,” Grybowski said.

Gravatt paced all scorers with 18 points and Hager chipped in with 17.

LaShauna Brothers netted 14 points, while corralling a game-best 13 rebounds for the Lady ’Canes. Dennis and Rodgers contributed nine markers apiece. Dennis also handed out five assists.

New Castle was just 13 of 51 from the field, compared to 15 of 40 for Franklin. The Lady Knights turned it over 21 times, 14 of which came in the second half. The Lady ’Canes lost possession 18 times.

“Nothing was falling for us,” Grybowski said. “We didn’t make shots in the paint, we didn’t hit 3s, we didn’t hit pull-up jumpers.

“It didn’t matter. We weren’t hitting.”
Game Scoreboard
Franklin 7 12 11 22 0 52
New Castle 8 13 6 19 0 46
Box Scores
Saddie Gravatt 3 10-13 18
Kaitlyn Ritcheyt 0 0-2 0
Carissa Dolan 2 2-6 6
Natalie Hager 6 5-7 17
Autumn Witt 4 0-0 9
Bethany Foust 0 2-3 2
Jen Kahle 0 0-0 0
Tiffany Witt 0 0-0 0
Brooke Deal 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 15 19-31 52.

Jazelle Dennis 1 6-11 9
Shelby Rodgers 4 0-0 9
LaShauna Brothers 3 8-12 14
JaNia McPhatter 2 1-4 5
Kaylynn Waters 2 0-0 5
Ashley DeHass 0 0-2 0
Lynette Fish 0 0-0 0
Zynieckia Bester 1 1-3 3
Christina Talbert 0 1-2 1.
Totals: 13 17-34 46.

FRANKLIN 7 12 11 22 — 52
NEW CASTLE 8 13 6 19 — 46

3-point goals — Franklin 3 (Gravatt 2, A. Witt 1), New Castle 3 (Rodgers 1, Waters 1, Dennis 1).

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