North Allegheny flummoxes Hempfield with defense

| Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 8:39 p.m.

The North Allegheny boys basketball team is doing its best to prove that defense wins championships.

The third-seeded Tigers' third-quarter defensive clinic, coupled with efficient 3-point shooting, carried them to an 82-59 win over No. 6 seed Hempfield in a WPIAL Class AAAA boys quarterfinal game Saturday at Penn Hills.

The Tigers (21-3) advanced to the semifinals, where they will face Hampton. The Talbots downed Franklin Regional, 76-61, in an earlier quarterfinal at Penn Hills.

North Allegheny held Hempfield (21-3) scoreless for the first 4:40 of the third quarter to pull away. The Tigers outscored the Spartans, 30-8, in the third quarter.

“It just clicked coming out of the locker room,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said.

Elijah Zeise set the tone after halftime by taking a pair of charges within the first minute. After that, the Tigers' relentless full-court pressure gave Hempfield fits.

“It's very difficult for players to speed up to beat a press but then understand in the halfcourt, ‘OK, if I don't have a good shot, I need to pull it out,' ” Hempfield coach Mark Marino said. “And I think we struggled with that several times.”

It was a good day all-around for the Tigers, who made 12 3-pointers. Joe Mancini made five of those and finished with a game-high 22. Mike Carter, who scored the game's first seven points, added 16. Cole Costantino scored 15.

“We just played fearless and played with confidence, and we shot the ball well,” Mancini said. “Everybody came out ready to go hard and ready to play.”

The game continued the Tigers' trend of defensive dominance. They shut down Norwin, 66-36, in the first round.

Kason Harrell led Hempfield with 21 points, followed by Tony Pilato, who scored his team's first six points and finished with 19.

The Tigers moved on to a semifinal rubber match with Section 4-AAAA rival and No. 2 seed Hampton (21-3). The teams split their regular-season series.

“We're trying to get revenge from last year, when they beat us in the semis,” Mancini said. “We definitely know we can play with them. There's not a doubt in anyone in our locker room's mind that we can play with them. We can beat them because we already beat them once this year.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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