Free-throw shooting keys Fox Chapel's opening-round win
ERIE — Near-perfect free-throw shooting by Fox Chapel enabled the Foxes to continue the WPIAL's mastery over Erie McDowell in the PIAA playoffs.
Fox Chapel hit 23 of 26 foul shots, including 14 of 14 in the second half as the Foxes defeated the Trojans, 48-36, in a PIAA Class AAAA first-round playoff game at Mercyhurst.
It was Erie McDowell's 20th PIAA playoff berth in past 21 seasons.
The Trojans were eliminated by a WPIAL school for the seventh straight season.
Fox Chapel (20-5) will play Hempfield (18-9) in the second round Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.
Sophomore Kayla Slovenec led the Foxes with 13 points, and Duke recruit Erin Mathias had 10, including going 6 for 6 from the foul line as Fox Chapel survived a long field-goal drought in the second half .
“I knew we were doing well, and thank the Lord,” Fox Chapel coach Meghan Meabon said of her team's foul shooting. “We struggled offensively, especially when we were in our half-court sets. We needed something somewhere.”
The Foxes took the lead for good at the first-quarter buzzer when Mathias drove left from the baseline. Fox Chapel had a strong second quarter, capped by Anna Kelly's three-point play with 13 seconds left in the half.
After Mathias blocked a shot at the Erie McDowell end, Kelly's putback while being fouled by Emily Fromknecht resulted in a 28-14 Foxes lead at halftime.
But the Foxes couldn't find the range from the field until freshman Gaby Badway connected with 6:13 left in the game.
“I'm proud at how the girls stepped up with their foul shooting,” Meabon said. “In the fourth quarter, we did try to transition a little more so we didn't get stuck in that half-court offensive set.”
After Taylor Cohen's basket gave Fox Chapel a 38-29 advantage with 4:52 left, the Foxes' defense went to work.
Four Trojans passes were slapped out of bounds by Badway and Cohen, and a tie-up at midcourt prohibited Erie McDowell (15-8) from getting any set shots before Mary Smith hit a pair of free throws after 90 seconds had elapsed.
A 3-pointer by Melissa Molnar with 1:51 to go brought the Trojans to within 42-36, but the District 10 champs couldn't get any closer.
The Foxes sank six more free throws and blanked the Trojans the rest of the way.
Mathias had two baskets.
“I think we played great, defensively,” Erie McDowell coach Megan Fiala said. “We held them to three field goals in the second half, none in the third quarter. We struggled to score. We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game.”
Erie McDowell also was strong from the foul line, hitting 11 of 14 shots. But Fiala had to watch the parade of successful Foxes trips to the line.
“I watched a lot of them tonight, and unfortunately, it wasn't us shooting,” Fiala said. “Give them credit. We sent them to the line.”
Molnar was the only Trojans player in double figures with 12 points.
Mathias led the Foxes with nine rebounds and three blocked shots.
George Guido is a freelance writer.