No. 12 seed Hempfield stuns No. 1 North Allegheny to reach finals

Paul Schofield
| Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, 10:51 p.m.

The Hempfield girls basketball team picked a great time to play its best.

The Spartans have put together an impressive and similar run in the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs, and for the third consecutive game they used a fast start to take down a higher seeded opponent.

First it was No. 5 Upper St. Clair. Next was No. 4 Bethel Park. This time it was No. 1 North Allegheny in the semifinals. And in all of the games, the No. 12-seeded Spartans (17-8) raced out to a quick lead.

Hempfield jumped out to a 7-0 lead and rolled to a 60-44 victory against the Tigers (22-2) on Tuesday at Penn Hills to avenge a regular-season loss.

The victory puts the Spartans (17-8) in the Class AAAA finals for the first time in school history. They will play Section 1-AAAA rival Penn-Trafford at a time to be determined Saturday at Palumbo Center.

Hempfield, which lost to North Allegheny, 61-50, on Feb. 8, dominated the rematch. When the Tigers made a run in the third quarter, cutting a 20-point lead to 12, senior Monica Burns and freshman Sam Orie teamed on a give-and-go to increase the lead.

Burns, who finished with a game-high 23 points, then drilled a couple of 3-pointers, and Hempfield was on its way.

“They are playing their best basketball right now,” North Allegheny coach Sherri McConnell said. “They have a senior who is putting the team on her back and who refuses to lose.”

Burns, who had seven assists, isn't doing it by herself. She's got a lot of help.

Junior Leah Knizner added 12 points and 10 rebounds and junior Lexi Irwin had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Orie came off the bench to score nine points.

“We're peaking at the right time,” Hempfield coach Aaron Epps said. “We blew that first game against them, but I believe the girls learned from it. In the playoffs, you can't afford to fall behind good teams. We're going out and setting the tempo.”

Hempfield led 15-8 after one quarter and increased its lead to 30-16 by halftime.

Meg Morningstar came off the bench to score six of her team-high 12 points in the first half to keep North Allegheny close. She also had seven rebounds. Taylor Lake scored seven of her 11 points in the opening half.

But Hempfield opened the second half on a 6-0 run to push the lead to 36-16.

North Allegheny didn't go away. An 8-0 run cut the Hempfield lead to 36-24, but the Spartans responded behind Burns, who scored 10 points in the third quarter.

Hempfield led 47-28 after three quarters.

“We told the girls if we started the second half aggressively, we could bury them,” Epps said. “We did, but North Allegheny is a great team and it fought back. But we have some big-time girls who stepped up when things got tight.”

Hempfield was able to put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, never allowing North Allegheny to make a run. The Spartans played sound defense the entire game.

Hempfield was 21 for 42 from the field and outrebounded the bigger North Allegheny team, 30-25. The Tigers were only 16 for 47 (34 percent) from the field.

“We knew our size would be a disadvantage, but we overcame that with our quickness,” Knizner said. “It's surreal right now. It's easy for us to pick up the pace because we're so well conditioned.

“We definitely got confidence from that first meeting against then and we knew we could hang with them.”

Penn-Trafford defeated Hempfield in its previous two meetings.

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