Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fort Cherry exceeds expectations, raises them for next year

"Who would have thought a few months ago that Fort Cherry would hang with the two-time defending state champs and give them a ball game?" - Fort Cherry head coach Bob Miles

The best season in the history of Fort Cherry girls basketball ended Saturday with a 57-48 loss to powerhouse Bishop Guilfoyle in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals. Yes, it's the same Bishop Guilfoyle that has won two straight state championships and three out of the last four.

And, yes, the game was far more competitive than the final score might indicate.

Against the state's top-ranked team, Fort Cherry was tied 44-44 in the fourth quarter following a furious rally from a 14-point deficit in the third quarter. The Rangers proved with that performance, along with a phenomenal postseason run that they belong along the state's elite in the classification. Possibly beyond.

Fort Cherry, which finished 24-5, bested WPIAL Class AAA finalist Ambridge on the Bridgers' home court. The Rangers beat WPIAL Class AA finalist Jeannette on a neutral court. They beat higher classification playoff teams in Ringgold and Washington. They won the Section 3-A title with a perfect 12-0 record. The only losses came against strong competition - teams like Canon-McMillan, Monessen, North Catholic, Mt. Pleasant and, finally, Bishop Guilfoyle.

Maybe a couple months ago, this run didn't seem possible.

Fort Cherry returned a strong group, which included Beka Bellhy. What made the Rangers better was the progression of players like point guard Jessie Merckle and defensive stopper Carolena Gasbarro.

All three will be back next year, along with Victoria McGivern, Rachel Bellhy and Kelly Slates. Starting forward Danielle Spinden is the lone senior in the regular rotation.

So, a season that started with some promise turned into "one incredible run" as Miles put it following the Bishop Guilfoyle game.

More will be expected from Fort Cherry, which played for the WPIAL Class A championship, the first time a Fort Cherry basketball team reached that game in 50 years.

The improvement shown by the players, the unselfish play, swarming defense and ball movement will be needed next year as things won't be easy. Monessen returns all its talent. Bishop Guilfoyle loses just one starter. North Catholic is always strong. So is Vincentian Academy.

In section play, Chartiers-Houston will be a difficult opponent.

All those teams cold be future postseason opponents for Fort Cherry, which proved the past month it belongs amongst the PIAA elite. Remaining there will be the next step,

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