Balouris’ score, steal in final seconds lift North Allegheny past Norwin in Class 6A semifinals

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 | 9:34 PM

Norwin girls basketball coach Brian Brozeski played football at Penn State so he appreciated a gridiron analogy of Tuesday night’s playoff game.

Early on, North Allegheny and Norwin traded scoring plays from spread offenses. Fly patterns and go routes. Go deep.

In the fourth quarter, it was handoff after handoff — three yards and a cloud of dust. Methodical patience in halfcourt sets.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much how it was,” Brozeski said. “And how it felt.”

In the end, North Allegheny believes it was defense — think pass-rushes and stopping the run — that earned the two-time defending WPIAL champions their fourth straight trip to the finals.

Junior Katerina Balouris made the go-ahead layup with about nine seconds to go, then came up with a steal under the basket with two seconds left as North Allegheny edged past Norwin, 37-36, in the Class 6A semifinals at Fox Chapel.

The lead changed three times in the final 40 seconds.

The second-seeded Tigers (23-1) move on to play No. 1 Peters Township (24-0) in the title game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Petersen Events Center.

Norwin (21-2), which saw a 13-game winning streak stopped, will now focus on the PIAA playoffs.

A matchup that conjured memories of recent years when the teams battled for WPIAL supremacy — both have two WPIAL titles since 2014; Norwin beat the Tigers in the championship in 2016 — North Allegheny made the most of its sixth straight semifinal berth.

North Allegheny, which allows just 34 points a game, relied on scoring from its senior guard — and defensive coordinator — Rachel Martindale. She scored a game-high 17 points, including five first-half 3-pointers, and called for the Tigers to switch to their “Kentucky” defense, something coach Spencer Stefko said made a difference.

“Rachel is going to be a coach here someday,” Stefko said. “She is smarter than I’ll ever be. We gave them a different look.”

Martindale, an Akron recruit, asked for the team to go to the defensive scheme with about two minutes left. It limited Norwin’s scoring chances, at least until junior Jayla Wehner drove the lane and scored to put Norwin ahead 34-33.

“When you play (North Allegheny), you have to make adjustments on the fly,” Brozeski said.

Two free throws from Groetsch, who had 15 points, made it 35-34, North Allegheny, with 36 seconds left.

“Our defense can start our offense,” Martindale said. “If we don’t play good defense there is not a chance that we can win.

“It was a grinding game. You have to make them make shots; they did, we kept it close and it came down to the final seconds.”

Wehner drove in again with 20 seconds left to put Norwin back in front, 36-35, before Groetsch drove the lane and dished to a wide-open Balouris for the go-ahead hoop.

“That’s Kat ‘Freakin’ Balouris,” Stefko said. “She made some great plays when we needed them. She doesn’t get enough credit.”

The junior forward then came away with a steal in the closing seconds as Norwin inbounded with 2.2 on the clock.

“Anyone on our team could have been in that situation, and it happened to Kat,” Martindale said. “And I am so happy it was her.”

North Allegheny led 17-15 after the first quarter and 26-20 at the half.

Norwin opened the second half with a 12-0 run to take a 32-26 lead, but the Tigers answered with seven straight points, including a putback by Groetsch to give the Tigers a 33-32 advantage with 4:44 remaining.

“It was 12-0 but we needed a 22-0 (run) against a team like that,” Brozeski said. “It’s a high-challenge game. Whether you are on the Norwin side or NA side, you had to be proud of how the girls competed. People sacrificing whatever they had.”

Emily Brozeski led Norwin with 10 points, and Wehner had nine.

The teams combined to shoot just eight free throws, four apiece.

“Norwin is such a good team,” Stefko said. “They are going to be good for a while.”

Norwin handed North Allegheny its only loss of the season, 44-43, in January, in Section 1 play. Both of Norwin’s losses were to the Tigers.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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