WEXFORD – The first round of the WPIAL playoffs is a mystery to every participant. Unfamiliar opponents with unknown styles of play and sometimes deceiving records.
That was the case for the Washington girls team Wednesday night. The Prexies knew their first-round opponent was Mohawk, and the Warriors entered the postseason with a less-than-impressive 7-15 record and riding a five-game losing streak.
But what those numbers didn’t reveal was that Mohawk played the entire season without junior guard Karly McCutcheon, one of the Warriors’ most experienced and perhaps their best player.
McCutcheon made her season debut against Washington and scored 21 points, but the Prexies had too much Carly Allen, too much Torri Finley and too much quickness for a young Mohawk team.
Allen scored a game-high 24 points, Finley had 18, including a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter, and Washington pulled away for a 58-45 victory in a Class 3A game at North Allegheny High School.
The win sends Washington (19-4) into the quarterfinals Saturday against top-seeded Neshannock (20-2) in a matchup of the two highest-scoring teams in Class 3A. The Prexies will take a seven-game winning streak into the game and will likely have a better idea of what to expect from Neshannock than they did from Mohawk.
“We really didn’t get a scouting report on Mohawk with the WPIAL rule of two video tapes in an exchange between playoff teams,” Washington coach Ron Moore said. “That girl (McCutcheon) is a really good player.”
Washington did not see McCutcheon on video because she sat out Mohawk’s first 22 games because she damaged a knee ligament.
“She hurt it on the first play of the first scrimmage,” Mohawk coach Mike O’Lare explained.
With McCutcheon back in the lineup and combining with Madie Lape, who scored 16 points (14 in the first half), Mohawk had more firepower and spark than could be expected from a 7-15 team.
Washington did forge an early 13-4 lead as its full-court press bothered Mohawk, forcing five early turnovers. Mohawk, however, began getting to the free-throw line in the tightly officiated game. The Warriors shot 17 first-half free throws, including 11 by Lape, which helped trim Wash High’s lead to 26-22 at halftime.
“We really didn’t know anything about Mohawk,” Allen said. “First-round games are always hard regardless of who you’re playing because every opponent wants to win, doesn’t want its season to end, and will play hard from the start. Because of that, you don’t know what to expect.”
McCutcheon made a trio of three-pointers in the third quarter, which helped Mohawk tie the score. Washington, however, reversed the plot in the second half by getting to the free-throw line a whopping 27 times, making 15, which enabled the Prexies to set up their full-court press. Mohawk committed 23 turnovers.
“We were off for eight days, and we spent three days practicing just against the press,” O’Lare said. “The problem is sometimes you can’t simulate length and quickness. Washington relies on its press and we turned the ball over too many times.”
Washington led 37-32 after three quarters and the biggest basket in the game was the Prexies’ only three-pointer of the night, a high, arching shot from the left corner by Finley that gave the Prexies a 43-35 lead.
“That was a good shot,” Moore said. “We have trust and faith in Torri. She’s been playing with injuries since the fourth game of the season, so God bless her effort. She brings leadership every game.”
Mohawk could get no closer than five points, 45-40, the rest of the way as Allen, Tamia Russell and Jahela Oakley were able to get to the free-throw line six times each in the fourth quarter. The Prexies were 21 of 36 at the stripe for the game.
Allen had 16 of her points in the second half. She also finished with a team-high 11 rebounds. Oakley grabbed 10.
“Allen is good in the high post,” O’Lare said. “We were killing her but she is good at using her body to draw contact. That’s what a senior does to a young team. She’s tough to guard in the middle of the floor.”