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Basketball

Penn-Trafford girls in first place after Hempfield win

Doug Gulasy
| Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Penn-Trafford's Athena Biondi (center) and Kaila Simcoviak (right)  congratualte Casey Aunkst (13) after Aunkst scored the game-winning basket against Hempfield on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, at Penn-Trafford High School. Aunkst scored off her own missed shot to give the Warriors a 63-62 victory.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Penn-Trafford's Athena Biondi (center) and Kaila Simcoviak (right) congratualte Casey Aunkst (13) after Aunkst scored the game-winning basket against Hempfield on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, at Penn-Trafford High School. Aunkst scored off her own missed shot to give the Warriors a 63-62 victory.

After a game last weekend against Hempfield, Penn-Trafford girls basketball coach John Giannikas labeled the Spartans and Norwin as “the cream of the crop” in Section 1-AAAA.

Right now, his own squad is ahead of both of them.

Penn-Trafford (5-4, 4-0) began the week in first place in Section 1-AAAA, a half-game ahead of Norwin (5-4, 3-0) and two games ahead of Hempfield. The Warriors reached that spot thanks to a 63-62 win over Hempfield, the defending section champion, on Saturday afternoon.

“It can change on a dime, but our kids know we still have a lot of work to do,” Giannikas said after the game. “We like where we're at, but it's only (four) games. To get a win against a good team like that (affects) more than the standings. It's the confidence it gives the kids that they can play with one of the better teams in the WPIAL. That's big for them.”

The Warriors' victory over Hempfield showcased a never-quit attitude that junior Casey Aunkst called the team's motto. Hempfield led Penn-Trafford by 13 points after the first quarter, but the Warriors continued to fight back throughout the game and eventually won on a shot by Aunkst as time expired.

“We were almost looked on as an underdog throughout the whole season, never expected to be good,” Aunkst said. “But I think we're surprising people, and we're always taught never to quit since we were little.”

Aunkst showed a never-quit attitude of her own on the final play. The junior point guard drove into the lane and put up a shot that missed as time wound down, but she snared her own offensive rebound and scored as the buzzer sounded.

“(Giannikas) basically set everything up, so I owe him all my credit,” she said. “I know I missed the first shot, so I just stuck with it and finished the game.”

“It's been like this all year,” Giannikas said. “We're in every game. They play their hearts out, and tonight was one of the games that instead of (us) coming up short on the last possession, Casey was a warrior. She didn't quit on the play and finished it off at the end.”

Penn-Trafford's top two players, Maria Palarino and Aunkst, again had a strong game against Hempfield. Palarino scored 22 points, and Aunkst added 13.

But the work of secondary players especially keyed the Warriors' comeback. Kaila Simcoviak scored 14 points, Katy Abreu forced several Hempfield turnovers and Emma Mull hit a key 3-pointer to give Penn-Trafford the lead late in the fourth quarter.

“Our younger kids are inexperienced, but they're getting better,” Giannikas said. “Our big kids have been playing great all year. Palarino's been unbelievable, Aunkst has been unbelievable, Abreu's been unbelievable and today Simcoviak and Mull hit big shots. And (Athena) Biondi isn't playing like a freshman. That kid plays hard out there. Combined, the kids played a great team and fortunately today we came out on top.”

Penn-Trafford showed bounce-back ability by getting the win over Hempfield. The Warriors had lost two games the weekend before at the North Allegheny Tournament.

“Last weekend was tough, but at the same time we learned we could play with some good teams,” Giannikas said. “You've got South Park; they won the state championship last year, and they've got most of their big guns back. (Canon-McMillan is) a good team, and we played both teams toe to toe at the wire. We came up short, and today was another one of those games. It's like our sixth game where it's come down to the last possession.”

Giannikas said the Warriors are handling adversity well this season, but now the team will see how it can handle success.

Aunkst is already following the example of her coach, downplaying the news that the team was in first place after the Hempfield win.

“It's a big deal, but you've got to put it behind you because there's still more games to come,” she said. “You don't stay first the whole time.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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