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North Allegheny girls earn spot in PIAA championship game

| Monday, March 20, 2017, 9:48 p.m.

CHAMBERSBURG — Not everything in life balances out, but for the North Allegheny girls basketball team, the sport itself seemed to repay a debt to the Tigers.

A free throw by Rachel Martindale with 0.9 seconds left gave North Allegheny a 32-31 win over Souderton in the PIAA Class 6A girls basketball semifinals Monday night, advancing the WPIAL champion Tigers (28-1) to the finals at 6 p.m. Friday at Giant Center in Hershey. Their opponent will be Boyertown, a 39-37 winner over Cardinal O'Hara in the other semifinal.

"That gives us another 100 hours with these kids," North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said of the victory. "That's what I wanted out of this game. Sometimes you get a group this special, and you don't want to let it go."

A year ago, North Allegheny was in the state semifinals and lost 43-42 to Cumberland Valley on two free throws following a non-shooting foul with 0.8 seconds left.

Martindale, who tied Piper Morningstar for team-high scoring honors with 13 points, got the opportunity to score the winning point after the Tigers' defense forced a turnover with under 10 seconds left. A deflected pass near the free throw line led to a traveling call, giving the Tigers a chance to break a 31-31 tie in regulation.

Once Brynn Serbin dribbled into the front court, she handed the ball off to Martindale, who was fouled on the floor a couple steps behind the 3-point arc.

"You feel for that girl, but if she doesn't play Rachel that tight, Rachel at least gets a shot off on the buzzer," Stefko said.

Possibly so, though Martindale said she was hoping for the whistle.

"I was hoping to get fouled," Martindale said. "We were trying to run a play, but they were all over us."

It was the ninth foul on Souderton (22-9), the 11th seed from District 1, so Martindale had to make the first attempt to put the Tigers on top. She did, then missed the second, and Souderton was not able to get a shot off in the remaining time.

There were only 11 points scored combined in the fourth quarter, but the scarcity in scoring only added to the drama of each successful shot.

Madelyn Fischer had a three-point play with 5:33 left in the game to put the Tigers up 28-27. That basket was the last field goal of the game.

Kate Connolly made two free throws with 4:34 remaining to put Souderton back ahead 29-28. Alana Cardona, who led Souderton with 16 points, made two more with 4:00 on the clock to increase the advantage to 31-28.

Martin cut the deficit to one point with two free throws with 3:53 left, and Morningstar tied it 31-31 with one make out of two attempts with 2:47 remaining.

Both teams finished with 11 turnovers, including a pair of back-to-back giveaways between Morningstar's tying free throw and Martindale's winning make from the line.

"Points were at a premium," Stefko said. "That was 99 percent their defense, and the other one percent was also their defense."

The Tigers' defense was playing well too, evidenced in part by Hailey Zeise's three blocked shots.

Souderton had a 38-33 rebounding advantage, with Cardona and Megan Beaker each grabbing eight.

Fischer had nine rebounds for the Tigers.

David Bohr is a freelance writer.

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