No. 3 North Allegheny girls top Penn Hills to earn long-awaited semifinal win
The North Allegheny girls basketball team has been knocking on the door for another chance at a WPIAL championship since last winning in 1998. The problem was, they were knocking.
The No. 2 Tigers kicked the door down this time with a 68-40 win over No. 3 Penn Hills in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals at Fox Chapel on Tuesday night.
“I think the reason this feels so good is that (Penn Hills) is such a good team,” North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said. “You watch (Penn Hills) on film, and it's a nightmare. I don't know how the final (score) got to what it was because that team is as dangerous as any and as well coached as any, and that's probably the best guard tandem in the state.”
North Allegheny (22-3) advanced to play defending champion and No. 1 seed Norwin (24-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Pitt's Petersen Events Center. With the win, the Tigers ended an 0-7 drought of semifinal losses since their 1998 WPIAL title.
Penn Hills (22-3) scored the game's first two baskets before North Allegheny settled down. But just like in games past, a shooter stepped up for North Allegheny. Abby Gonzales scored a basket and Hailey Zeise, a Stony Brook commit, drained two 3-pointers to light a fire under her team that never went out.
“I was just feeding off the energy and the atmosphere in the gym and in the team room. It was really important to get the momentum going,” said Zeise, who scored a career-high 23 points.
“Hitting those shots at the beginning really raised the bar.”
Penn Hills guard Desiree Oliver was held to nine points in the first half and finished with 20. Penn Hills shooters were 0 of 8 from behind the 3-point arc, shot 33 percent from the floor and were outrebounded 10-2 at their own end in the first half.
“Mental breakdowns early, gambling, (giving) them open 3's, didn't box out and (North Allegheny's) first eight points of the game came off second-chance shots,” Penn Hills coach John Tate said. “For me it was the effort, and I think we got out-toughed and that lays at my feet. In a semifinal game, you have to lay it on the line, and we didn't do that.”
Gonzales hit two 3-pointers and Zeise added another 3 to help the Tigers extend their lead to 28-18 at halftime. Gonzales finished with 20 points.
“There's an old saying that in big games your best players have to be your best players, and tonight our best players were our best players,” Stefko said.
Last Friday's hero, Rachel Martindale, did it again when she drained a 3-pointer from 80 feet at the buzzer to give the Tigers a 47-27 lead going into the final quarter. The shot sent the NA bench and fans into a frenzy.
“I'm running out of superlatives,” Stefko said describing Martindale's performance. “In practice, she's made them from out of bounds, the entire 84 feet. She's kind of carving out a little niche for herself. She's got more buzzer-beaters than you would imagine any freshman would have.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.