Penn-Trafford Warriors take second at North Allegheny Tournament
Penn-Trafford's undefeated start to the season came to an end in a potential late-round playoff preview.
The Warriors reached the final by defeating North Catholic, 58-43, but lost for the first time this season in the championship game of the North Allegheny Christmas Tournament, 50-47, in overtime against the host team.
Maria Palarino scored a game-high 16 in the final, and Taylor Cortazzo added 11, as Penn-Trafford (7-1) rallied from a six-point deficit in the fourth quarter before being held to just two points in the overtime period.
Taylor Brennan scored 13 to lead North Allegheny (6-2), which jumped to No. 4 in the Tribune-Review Class AAAA rankings, while P-T fell out of the top five.
Though the loss was the first setback of the season for Penn-Trafford, head coach John Giannikas knew even before the game that his team still has plenty of room to grow before the season's end.
“We scrimmage in practice against each other every day, so we know what we still need to improve on,” Giannikas said after the North Catholic game. “Like any other team at this point, there are things we can do better and work on before the end of the season.”
Giannikas' team had to turn it on in the second half to put away North Catholic (4-4), the No. 3 team in Class A, which only trailed by three, 30-27, at halftime.
P-T ratcheted up the defense in the second half and held the Trojans' leading scorer, Lauren Wolosik, to just five points in the second half after she scored 14 before the break.
Maddy Mossellem led the Warriors with 13 points against North Catholic, while Cortazzo had 12, and Morgan Rector scored 11 in the win.
“It's good to play these more difficult teams because it makes us that much better,” Mossellem said. “We do like the competition. It's always fun to go out there and play our hardest, so we do like these tournaments against good teams.”
Rector and Cortazzo kept the Warriors in front with their 3-point shooting in the first half, but along with the step up in defensive play, Penn-Trafford also made more of a commitment to working the ball inside during the second half, something it will have to do to continue having success against the WPIAL's best teams.
“We knew we had to take the outside shots when we had them, but when the outside shots aren't falling, you can't rely on that. You have to get the ball inside,” Mossellem said.
“Rector really shot the ball great in the first half and gave us a little bit of a cushion, but we talked at halftime about settling for too many 3s,” Giannikas said. “We tried to call some sets in the second half where we get the ball inside, and I thought our bigs did a nice job of attacking the boards.”
As Penn-Trafford built its lead, North Catholic was left with no way to answer without Wolosik scoring.
The Trojans' star was held scoreless in the third quarter, during which North Catholic scored only six points, and Penn-Trafford extended its lead from three to 16 by turning up its defensive intensity.
“We knew coming in that she was a good player,” Mossellem said. “We didn't really change anything about what we were doing to defend her (in the second half). What we did was talk about how we were defending her, not what we were doing to defend her.”
Penn-Trafford will need that defensive intensity on Friday at 6 p.m., when it returns to Section 1-AAAA play with a road game at Hempfield.
The Warriors and the Spartans (8-2) are the last two unbeaten teams in the section, and both have matching 3-0 records entering the game.
Penn-Trafford and Hempfield split their two meetings last season, with each team winning on its home floor, but a loss by the Spartans to third-place Kiski Area handed the outright section title to Penn-Trafford last year.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.