Fox Chapel girls hold off Norwin
Fox Chapel had another case of the shakes.
Only this time, it wasn't because of late-game nerves in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.
As part of a new playoff tradition, the team went out for McDonald's Shamrock Shakes after their game Friday night, a reward after the Foxes left Norwin green with envy at North Allegheny.
No. 3 seed Fox Chapel held off No. 6 Norwin, 55-51, to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2009.
Fox Chapel (19-4) will meet No. 7 Penn-Trafford (18-6), which upset No. 2 Mt. Lebanon, 32-24, on Tuesday.
Norwin (17-6), which was seeking its first semifinal appearance since 1980, and can still make the PIAA playoffs if Fox Chapel wins the WPIAL title.
“We like to goof around and have fun, but we set goals too,” said Fox Chapel sophomore guard Kayla Slovenec, who tied a game-high with 16 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “One of the goals was winning another playoff game and getting (back to the semifinals). So, we're heading out to get our Shamrock Shakes.”
Fox Chapel didn't need shamrocks — or any good luck charms — to reach the final four.
Behind strong play from its underclass backcourt, which provided key defensive stops and helped counter double-teams on 6-foot-3 star center Erin Mathias, the Foxes showed poise, especially with the lead.
“We upped the ante (with team goals and rewards),” Fox Chapel coach Meghan Meabon said. “I can't say enough about our defense; that helped us keep it a game in the first half and we were mentally strong in the second half.”
Fox Chapel used a 16-0 run that began late in the second quarter and lasted midway through the third as the Foxes imposed their 2-2-1 press on the Knights.
“They're a well-coached team, and they made some nice adjustments,” said Norwin coach Brian Brozeski. “They changed up the pace, and that kind of put us on our heels.”
Mathias scored eight of her 14 points in the fourth quarter as the Foxes pushed their lead to 52-45.
“They have some good shooters, so we had to stay tight on them and keep pressuring them,” Slovenec said.
Norwin, which led by two at the half, rallied to cut the deficit to two twice in the final 3:27. But it never regained the lead.
A three-point play by Delany Arbore (16 points) off a steal and pass from Julia Carter got Norwin to within 53-51 with 47.1 seconds to go.
Norwin gained possession after a pair of Fox Chapel free-throw misses but couldn't cash in, missing a layup with about 30 seconds to play.
Anna Kelly made a pair of free throws for Fox Chapel with 2.6 seconds to seal it. Kelly finished with 12 points.
“Our girls are doing a much better job of understanding their roles,” Meabon said. “We preach basketball IQ. Our girls are getting better learning what to do in certain situations.”
Brozeski, who said Fox Chapel's guard play was the difference, thinks his team will remain focused, even with the season in relative limbo.
“Win or lose, it's been a successful season for us, even if you just look at how the girls practice every day,” he said. “That, to me, is the most inspiring thing.”
Carter and Alayna Gribble scored nine apiece for Norwin. Taylor Cohen led Fox Chapel with seven assists.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.