Penn-Trafford's outside shooting game keys win over Fox Chapel
Fox Chapel realized how proficient Penn-Trafford was with its outside shooting going into Tuesday's WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal game.
With so many good shooters, stopping the Warriors was another matter.
Penn-Trafford hit seven 3-pointers and eight 2-point field goals en route to a 44-43 overtime victory over the Foxes at Penn Hills.
Case in point was Penn-Trafford 5-foot-10 junior Emma Mull, who came off the bench to nail a pair of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to erase slim Fox Chapel leads.
Her first came with 3:27 left in regulation to put Penn-Trafford on top 34-33.
The Foxes retook the lead on a Gabby Badway basket, but Mull came through with another trey to put the Warriors in front 37-35.
“We needed a spark,” Warriors coach John Giannikas said. “I think they went box-and-one on Maria (Palarino). We needed somebody to step up and get out of that box, and she hit two huge 3s to propel us to the win, to be honest with you.”
Palarino led all scorers, tallying 28 of her team's 44 points. But Mull's six points can't be minimized.
“It was really nerve-wracking when I went in,” Mull said. “I went in, got my feet set and hit them.”
Mull didn't play in the first half, so mental preparation was a must until she got the call.
“The whole time on the bench, I sit there and shake, and watch the game,” Mull said.
It turned out to be the only points of the game scored by a non-starter.
“We knew they were more of an outside shooting team,” Fox Chapel coach Meghan Meabon said. “We knew we wanted to keep the ball out of Maria's hands. We made some adjustments on Maria and forced them do some other stuff, but it was too late.”
Giannikas knew that long-range shooting would be a key to victory.
“They play that zone,” Giannakis said. “You got to hit some to pull them out of it. Without the team hitting those shots, we don't win.”
Mull decided not to play basketball last year as a sophomore, but returned just in time to savor the program's first trip to the WPIAL finals.
“I couldn't ask for a better group of girls to be around,” Mull said. “To come back and be where we're at right now is just great.”
Penn-Trafford is headed to its first finals berth in the school's 42-year history.
The first eight times the Warriors made the playoffs starting in 1974, they lost their opening-round games.
Fox Chapel will have a 10-day break before beginning the PIAA playoffs March 7.
If Penn-Trafford defeats Hempfield, the Foxes will play Erie McDowell to open the state tourney. Fox Chapel pulled off a huge upset against McDowell to open the 1998 playoffs.
If Penn-Trafford loses, Fox Chapel will play Hempfield in the first round.
George Guido is a freelance writer.