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Penn-Trafford girls basketball team foils Mt. Lebanon with defense

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 9:51 p.m.

Penn-Trafford girls basketball coach John Giannikas expected a few raised eyebrows around the WPIAL after his team dispatched Mt. Lebanon in the Class AAAA quarterfinals Friday.

He and his team won't share in the astonishment.

“I know what these kids bring every night,” Giannikas said after the seventh-seeded Warriors (18-6) beat No. 2 Mt. Lebanon, 32-24, at North Hills to advance to the WPIAL semifinals. “Maybe some people are surprised out there, but the 14 kids and coaching staff in that locker room aren't. That's a great team we played, and we respect the heck out of them, but we wanted to come out and show we belong here.”

Stifling defense propelled Penn-Trafford. The Warriors held Mt. Lebanon (16-6) without a field goal until midway through the third quarter. The Blue Devils, winners of three of the past five WPIAL Class AAAA titles, turned the ball over seven times in the first half and were held scoreless in the second quarter. Penn-Trafford led 20-2 at halftime.

“We wanted them to earn everything,” Giannikas said. “I thought our kids did a great job being in the right spot defensively and forced them to make tough shots. I'm sure part of our defense the first half was us playing good ‘D,' and I'm sure they'd like to have some looks back. But that's a great team over there, and for us to win, we had to play great.”

Mt. Lebanon was held to fewer than 30 points for the first time since a 31-27 loss to Chartiers Valley in last season's WPIAL semifinals. The Blue Devils' previous season low in points came in a 37-26 win over Bethel Park on Feb. 1.

“We definitely had a tough night shooting,” Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker said. “You've got to be able to knock down shots. I think it would have taken them out of their game plan if we could have knocked down some open shots.”

Penn-Trafford played at a deliberate pace offensively. The Warriors passed the ball for more than a minute at times, and 10 offensive rebounds helped them hold on to the ball for longer.

“Mt. Lebanon is a great team, and they have a great coach,” said Penn-Trafford junior Maria Palarino, who scored a game-high 11 points. “That's what you have to do. You have to take control of the game. Be poised, and control it.”

Penn-Trafford led by as many as 19 points in the second half, but Mt. Lebanon made a late push. A 12-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, capped by Christine Ehland's offensive rebound and score, cut the Warriors' lead to 26-19 with 3:51 remaining. A 3-pointer by Maura Wallace made it 30-24 with 1:41 left, but Penn-Trafford freshman Athena Biondi sealed it by making two late free throws.

“They're a senior-oriented team that's used to winning, and they have a lot of heart,” Giannikas said. “We knew that their run was coming, and we had to be ready to withstand it.”

Penn-Trafford will play No. 3 Fox Chapel in the semifinals Tuesday. The Warriors also clinched a spot in the PIAA tournament. Mt. Lebanon will advance to the state playoffs if Penn-Trafford wins the WPIAL title.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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