Hempfield girls topple No. 5 Upper St. Clair
Hempfield senior guard Monica Burns sported a bloody lip after Tuesday's WPIAL Class AAAA first-round game at Bethel Park, and she was smiling about it.
“I'm wearing it to school Wednesday,” Burns said after leading Hempfield to a 65-56 upset over No. 5 Upper St. Clair. “I know it's the first round, but this definitely was an accomplishment. I couldn't have done it without my teammates.”
Burns scored 19 points, Lexi Irwin 17 and Leah Knizner 16 to lead Hempfield to its first victory against Upper St. Clair in the past three seasons. USC won 44-42 in a quarterfinal-round game in 2012 and 53-48 in the first round in 2013.
Hempfield (15-8), the third-place team from Section 1, wouldn't be denied this season, though it almost blew a big lead late.
Hempfield will play No. 4 Bethel Park on Friday at a site to be determined. Bethel Park defeated Seneca Valley, 36-29.
The Spartans raced to a 20-13 lead after one quarter and increased their lead to 35-18 by halftime. The lead went to 50-30 with 3:51 left in the third quarter.
Irwin and Burns led the first-half charge. Burns scored 11 points in the opening half and Irwin nine, all coming in the first quarter.
“It was the best first half of basketball since I began coaching 10 years ago,” Hempfield second-year coach Aaron Epps said. “I don't think we could have played any better. We only had two turnovers.
“We knew they'd come out in a box-and-one or a triangle, and we told the others girls they had to make shots. We were focused all week. I had a good feeling about this game.”
Irwin hit two 3-pointers, Burns a 3-pointer and Knizner scored six points to help Hempfield build the lead to 20, but Constance Raftis, Madison Serio and Rachel Mazzie led the Panthers' second-half charge.
“We knew that Burns was a very good outside shooter, but their other two girls (Knizner and Irwin), we didn't bank on that,” USC coach Ernie Koontz said. “In a playoff game like this, the team that gets the upper hand at the beginning gets that momentum and confidence rolling. They had us playing defense on our heels.”
Raftis finished with 19 points, Serio 15 and Mazzie 14.
Upper St. Clair (14-7), which tied for second in Section 4, turned up the defensive pressure and closed the Hempfield lead to 57-52 with 1:53 left.
But a basket by Knizner with 1:04 left keyed a 6-0 run, and Hempfield walked away with an impressive victory.
“It was a big accomplishment for us to beat them,” Epps said. “We strengthened our schedule this year, and we've been in these types of games. We started to panic a little bit, but we came through when we needed to.”