Following a couple of frustrating finales, the Immaculate Conception girls basketball team finally broke through with a landmark victory on March 8, 1986, in the WPIAL championship game.
PITTSBURGH – They are no longer just the Comettes. They have also become the Pioneers.
History will look quite favorably on the 1985-86 Immaculate Conception High School girls basketball team. After two frustrating trips to the WPIAL finals, which were to end in tears of silver, the Comettes finally wore gold around their neck.
And history will note them as the first Washington County girls school to do so.
IC captured the WPIAL Class A girls basketball championship here Saturday morning with a 48-33 victory over Farrell. It wasn’t an artistic affair, but history will be kind to the game over the years as well. But it was a victory the IC girls have looked forward to since leaving the Fitzgerald Field House a year ago with their heads bowed and their hearts heavy.
“This is very special,” IC head coach Mary Mosley said, her voice shaking with emotion. “Our motivation was the big difference. We were going to win this and we didn’t care what it took.”
“What happened here last year (a WPIAL final loss to St. Francis) only made us more determined. Being here before was certainly a big help.”
IC (22-4 overall) will enter the PIAA playoffs at Butler High School against Eisenhower, the third-place team from District 10. But first the Comettes had to dispose of the albatross that had haunted them for a year. And they wasted little time in establishing their determination.
IC, behind two long jumpers by Karen Silbaugh, started quickly and raced to a 12-1 lead before the Steelerettes (17-8) could score a field goal with 2:07 left in the first quarter.
“We were fired up at the beginning,” Silbaugh said. “The last couple of playoff games my shooting’s been off and it was starting to bother me. But when we walked in here I just decided to just let it flow. When I hit my first two it really gave me confidence.”
The Comettes stretched their lead to 16-5 after one quarter and the game appeared to be taking the form of a laugher. Instead, the game appeared to be taking on the appearances of a Three Stooges skit, as both teams combined for more turnovers (13) than points (12) in the second quarter. Because of IC’s loss of intensity, Farrell climbed within 20-13 at halftime and, after fighting off an IC surge at the start of the third quarter, the Steelerettes moved within six points (31-25) with six minutes to play.
“We closed the gap but we just couldn’t make the big play,” Farrell head coach Nick Cannone said. “We just dug a hole for ourselves early. When we were down 12-1, the awe in this place may have taken its toll with the girls. But we came back. We kept (IC’s Becki) Burlingham under control offensively although she did hurt us defensively. (Kim) Spencer was the one who really hurt us.”
Spencer led IC with 21 points by hitting seven of 15 shots and grabbing six rebounds. She scored six of her points in the fourth quarter, joining Burlingham and reserve guard Carrie Pisani in keying IC’s burst that cemented the first WPIAL girls championship for a Washington County team.
Burlingham, who scored a WPIAL record 27 points in last year’s title loss, had nine against Farrell but four of those came when the Comettes began their surge. Pisani assisted on both baskets.
“There were a couple of keys,” Mosley said. “We knew we had to hit some outside shots and Karen got us off to a great start. And Carrie came off the bench and sparked us. I thought she brought about the turning point of the game.”
While the victory was certainly a special one for these girls, who have grown up together through the joys and disappointments of three varsity seasons, it was especially gratifying for Burlingham. After her father was transferred to Louisville, Ky., last year, she was faced with a choice of moving or staying behind for her senior year at IC.
She chose to stay. And with her family reunited in the stands for this title game, the gold medal reflected a smile of satisfaction.
“One of the things my dad told me before the game was ‘No matter how I played today he’d be happy.’” Burlingham said. “It was hard for my dad. He kept in touch and he tried to get home when he could. But the last time he saw me play was over Christmas when we lost (to Lower Dauphin) and that was a bad time for me. So these playoffs really gave me incentive. I wanted him to see us play for the championship.”
And he had to be pleased.
Silbaugh finished with 10 points for the Comettes and Burlingham had nine rebounds. Kelly Buchanan led Farrell with 14 points while Monica Royster added 11.