Marian, Tri-Valley in Class A title game
Two weeks ago, after Marian's second humbling loss to Tri-Valley this season, Fillies' coach Paul Brutto was asked about the possibility of meeting the unbeaten Bulldogs in the District 11 playoffs.
"We'll see how much our players want to make that happen," said Brutto. "We'll have time to get this out of our system and then prepare for a tough matchup in our district opener.
"But if we work hard and play like I know we're capable, there is a good possibility we could see them again."
The Fillies proved they wanted to make it happen.
Tri-Valley and Marian will meet for the third time this season tonight at 6 p.m. at Martz Hall in Pottsville in the middle game of a tripleheader. This time, a District 11 Class A championship will be on the line.
Both teams were tested in the District 11 semis, especially the Fillies who had to go overtime to beat Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg, 48-42. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs trailed Nativity in the third quarter before pulling away for a 42-29 victory.
As happy as Brutto and the Fillies were to extend their season, having just one day to prepare for another meeting with Tri-Valley probably means the smiles didn't last long.
The Bulldogs beat Marian 54-21 during the regular season and followed that up with a 48-21 victory in the Schuylkill League championship game on Feb. 17.
"Saying we've had problems with Tri-Valley is an understatement," said Brutto. "Saying it that way is nice. They are a great team. We are going to throw everything we can at them.
"Last game we played zone. This time we are going to try to pick up the tempo and be more aggressive. They are one of the best teams in the state so it is going to be a tall order, but it's better than the alternative."
The alternative of course was a season-ending loss to Notre Dame.
"It feels great to be playing. We have four seniors that have been very important over the last four years," said Brutto about Kaysi McLaughlin, Kelly Shober, Danielle Tristani and Kimmy Wilson. "It's nice to not see their careers end tonight. We get to play for a championship and then at least have another game in states, so I am really happy for them."
Marian (20-4) will have to find a way to slow down Tri-Valley's talented duo of 6-4 center Tara Nahodil and 5-7 point guard Julie Weber. Nahodil scored 20 points against the Fillies in the Schuylkill League title game.
Even more important for Marian, however, will be to find a way to jumpstart its offense against Tri-Valley.
Marian hasn't had difficulty scoring points most of the season. The Fillies, led by the trio of McLaughlin (11.8 ppg.), Shober (10.0 ppg.) and Tristani (9.6 ppg.), are averaging over 48 points a game. Other than the two games against Tri-Valley, their next lowest offensive output was 37 points against Shenandoah.
But solving the Bulldogs' man-to-man defense has been another story. Their combination of quick perimeter defenders and Nahodil's size and shot blocking ability in the paint, has frustrated Marian.
"They held us in the 20s both times," said Brutto. "They are a great defensive team and I don't think we can beat them with just sets and plays.
"We have to try and generate some points with our defense if that's possible. I think we need to get the game kind of helter-skelter if we can. They have a great point guard though so that is easier said than done."
This will be Tri-Valley's fourth consecutive D-11 title game. The Bulldogs won Class A championships the last two years. A year ago, they beat Marian, 32-27, in the title game.
The Fillies last won a District 11 championship in 2008. That was the eighth in their history, having also won titles in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986 and 2005.
Both teams are assured of berths in the PIAA State Tournament. It will be the fourth straight appearance for Tri-Valley. For Marian it will be the second in a row and 16th in the last 18 seasons.