Penn-Trafford girls finish second, almost pull off upset
Penn-Trafford went from a good win to close the section season to just missing out on a great win in its last regular-season game.
The Warriors closed out the Section 1-AAAA girls basketball schedule by holding off a late rally to win at Norwin on Friday, 51-45, and dropped a back-and-forth nonsection contest against Class AAA No. 1 and undefeated Blackhawk, 57-53, at home on Monday.
Penn-Trafford (18-4, 12-2) locked up sole possession of second place in the section win over Norwin (12-10, 10-4), which was sparked by 18 points from Maria Palarino and 15 points from Taylor Cortazzo.
While clinching the runner-up spot likely ensured P-T will have a top-eight seed for the WPIAL Class AAAA tournament, the Warriors' tournament profile could have received a huge boost had they been the first to knock off Blackhawk (22-0).
“That was a great game by two pretty good teams, and I couldn't ask for our kids to play any better or harder than what they did,” Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas said. “Even though we came up a little bit short, it's a good confidence boost for us.”
The Warriors gave Blackhawk, led by sophomore Pitt recruit Chassidy Omogrosso, its closest game of the season and only its third settled by fewer than 10 points.
Omogrosso led all scorers with 24 points, while Penn-Trafford had a balanced attack that was paced by Maddy Mossellem and Palarino with 11 points each and Cortazzo with 10.
“Blackhawk's a pretty good team, and I couldn't be happier with my girls and the way we played,” Cortazzo said. “If we play like we did tonight and like I know we can play, we're going to do some damage in the WPIAL playoffs.”
The Cougars used a 9-0 run of three consecutive 3-pointers to open up a 30-23 at halftime, but Penn-Trafford worked its way back into the game with a 12-4 run in the third quarter to take a 40-38 lead, its first since the opening moments of the contest.
The team also did a better job of limiting Omogrosso in the second half, as she was held to just two field goals after halftime with a defensive effort led by Cortazzo and Casey Aunkst, who were the two primary defenders to guard her in the game.
“The second half, we played a little bit better on defense and we took away the 3s better,” Giannikas said. “We wanted to start out the game with Taylor on (Omogrosso), but we wanted to give her some different looks, so we went to Casey.
“(Omogrosso) is such a good player. You're not going to shut her out, but I think we made her work for her shots. Both Taylor and Casey did a good job on her.”
Cortazzo, for one, embraced the chance to be matched up in man-to-man defense with the Division I prospect.
“It was exciting to get to guard her. She's a real nice player,” Cortazzo said. “She's really quick, and we kind of play the same way. It was a nice challenge for me.”
P-T trailed by one entering the fourth quarter, and the first four minutes of the period featured three ties and five lead changes.
Blackhawk took the first two-possession lead of the quarter on a layup by Courtney Vannoy that made it 53-49. That allowed the Cougars to go into a time-wasting offense during the final three minutes, and it eventually forced Penn-Trafford to foul and send Blackhawk to the line.
The Cougars finished the game 17-for-22 at the line — P-T was just 3-for-8 — but two misses in the late stages kept the Warriors in range. Missed 3-pointers in the final minute by Palarino and Morgan Rector, who earlier in the quarter hit a game-tying 3, ended P-T's bid for an upset.
“Their shots fell, and ours didn't in the end. That's all it was,” Cortazzo said.
Penn-Trafford was set to find out who its first-round playoff opponent would be on Tuesday night, after this edition's deadline, when the WPIAL playoff pairings were to be released. The full brackets can be seen at www.wpial.org.
Giannikas said he's not concerned about who his team's first opponent is, and that his team put itself in the best position possible last week.
“You never know how they're going to look at our section against the other sections, so we needed that (Norwin) game badly,” Giannikas said.
“The kids went out and got a gutty win on Friday. Being a second-place team isn't a bad place to be for seeding.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.