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Fast start again fuels Hempfield girls to victory

| Friday, March 7, 2014, 10:33 p.m.

The starts of games haven't been the problem for Hempfield in the playoffs.

Fueled by a 18-0 run to start the game, the WPIAL runner-up defeated City League champion Obama Academy, 54-33, in the opening round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs Friday at Allderdice.

Hempfield will play Fox Chapel in the second round Tuesday, at a time and location to be determined.

Senior guard Monica Burns scored a game-high 21 points to help the Spartans (18-9) bounce back from their 56-45 loss to Penn-Trafford in the WPIAL championship a week ago.

“This game, we knew we had to get past the first round because of losing the WPIAL championship,” Burns said. “People underestimated us and acted like we were on a losing streak or something when it was just one game.”

The Spartans let a 15-point second-half lead slip away in the loss to Penn-Trafford, and they were in danger of letting the same happen against Obama.

After falling behind 18-0 in a hurry, Obama went on a 17-4 run to trail 22-17 in the second quarter.

That was the closest they got.

“We did fight back. I was proud of that,” Obama coach Monique McCoy said. “Today, we just encouraged the girls to give it their all. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain from this game.”

Hempfield scored six straight points to enter halftime with a 32-20 lead. The Spartans extended that scoring streak to a 17-0 run, capped by a pair of Burns free throws at the start of the third quarter to build a 43-20 lead.

“I was worried a little bit after the WPIAL finals with the way we lost that we would have a let down,' Hempfield coach Aaron Epps said. “But I know the character of our kids, and we came out today pretty much the way we've done all playoffs, which is coming out to a hard start.”

A man-to-man full-court press was the key to the start of the game.

Hempfield forced multiple turnovers on its way to the 18-0 lead. Although the defense was out of the ordinary for Hempfield, they played it to perfection.

“It was our game plan for this game,” Epps said. “Basically all playoffs, we've just been playing regular man defense, but we saw some things with them that showed us we wanted to trap and get all over them.”

Seven players scored Friday for the Spartans, and junior forward Leah Knizner was the only other scorer to finish in double figures with 10 points.

Epps can always tell when his team is going to have a good night offensively based on they way the players are sharing the ball, he said.

Michaela Porter and Rakeyla Little scored eight points each to lead Obama Academy (14-7).

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at

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