Hempfield girls harass way to win over Fox Chapel
Hempfield girls basketball coach Aaron Epps shrugged as he spoke about the 14 points his players scored in the third quarter Tuesday night during their PIAA Class AAAA second-round game at Gateway and noted that his girls led the WPIAL's largest classification in scoring during the regular season.
What made Epps more excitable stemmed from what the Spartans did at the other end of the floor against Fox Chapel during that fateful third quarter.
Hempfield (19-9), the WPIAL runner-up, broke open a tight contest by holding Fox Chapel to four points in the decisive quarter of its 54-44 victory. The Foxes (20-6), who finished third in the WPIAL, cut their deficit down to six after Hempfield's run put them behind 38-24, but they never came closer.
“I just think everything was predicated off our defense,” said Epps, whose Spartans opened the quarter on a 12-0 run. “I mean, 14 points isn't a lot of points for us. But we held them to four. Like I've said all year, we can score with anybody. But my primary concern is: Are we rebounding, and are we defending?”
Hempfield will play North Allegheny in the PIAA quarterfinals Friday at a site and time to be determined.
The Spartan who sparked the third-quarter run with a drive down the left lane, senior guard Monica Burns, actually became the offensive facilitator after spending much of the first half as its best finisher.
Burns, the team's lone senior, scored nine of her 12 first-half points in the second quarter, including a bucket as time expired to put Hempfield ahead 26-24 at halftime.
In the third quarter, she had just three points. But Hempfield hardly struggled, as its press caused nine Fox Chapel turnovers and set up easy scoring opportunities for junior guards Leah Knizner and Lexi Irwin, who combined for 16 points, including 12 in the second half.
Burns, meanwhile, tallied a game-high 26 points. She made 12 of 13 free throws and two 3's.
“In our halftime talk, it was all about me, because this would be the end of my career if we didn't win today,” Burns said. “(My teammates), they're all my best friends and all my sisters, and I know they all wanted to keep it going and play with me, play for me.”
While Burns put Hempfield on her back in the second quarter, 6-foot-3 forward Erin Mathias did the same with Fox Chapel, as she scored eight of her 12 first-half points during that period.
Sophomore guard Taylor Cohen added eight for the Foxes.
Mathias, a Duke recruit who made 6 of 7 free throw attempts and finished with 18 points, factored heavily in Fox Chapel's 14-9 edge in first-half rebounds. The Foxes grabbed eight offensive rebounds, and Mathias alone had two putbacks.
Able to create fast-break opportunities with ball pressure in the second half, Hempfield went 8 for 16 from the field.
“We knew our inside game was the stronger part against them, so their chance was to harass our guards as much as possible, and they absolutely did,” said Fox Chapel coach Meghan Meabon, whose team will lose just two players, Mathias and forward Patricia Panos, to graduation. “If we have to take a positive from here, it's that our young guards can maybe move forward with that experience and realize that with a little bit of confidence and a little bit of practice, we can come back stronger next year.”