Defense leads Penn Hills girls past Franklin Regional

Saturday, February 23, 2019 | 9:22 PM

Penn Hills has been one of the top defensive girls basketball teams in the WPIAL all season.

The spark that ignites the engine has been relentless, wall-to-wall pressure.

Add that hassling style to a healthy lineup, and Penn Hills has the look of a title contender in WPIAL Class 5A.

Defense propelled the fourth-seeded Indians past No. 5 Franklin Regional, 55-43, in the WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinals Saturday afternoon at Norwin.

The Indians (16-6) finally worked their way around the upstart Panthers (17-7) late in the fourth quarter to advance to the semifinals for the fourth time in five years. They will face No. 1 Chartiers Valley (23-0), which escaped No. 9 Trinity, 32-22, in another quarterfinal.

Penn Hills and Chartiers Valley play at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Fox Chapel.

“Our pressure was big,” Penn Hills coach Robert Cash said. “We had a lot of girls play for us today because we ran into some foul trouble. That kind of got us rebooted.”

Franklin Regional’s season isn’t over. If Penn Hills wins the WPIAL title, the Panthers make the PIAA playoffs.

Franklin Regional was seeking its first trip to the semifinals since 1979. The 70s were an impressive decade for the Panthers, who won WPIAL titles in 1977 and ’79. They also made the semis in 1974, ’75, ’76 and ’78.

Future glory days could mean having to combat athletic teams like Penn Hills.

“When their press was chaotic, we needed to take care of the ball better,” said Panthers coach Anthony Kobus, a teacher at Penn Hills. “The thing about Penn Hills today was they made four or five 3-pointers, and I don’t think they did that all year.”

Senior guard Adia Brisker and senior forward Tayonna Robertson combined for 33 points, which matches the Indians’ defensive points-per-game average.

Both battled injuries this season but make the Indians a formidable test when they’re both on the court.

Brisker, a Niagara recruit, had a game-high 20 points, and Longwood commit Robertson had 13.

Cash said Panthers senior guard Cali Konek was the concentration of his team’s defensive approach. Konek, a Charlotte recruit and the team’s top scorer at 15 points per game, was held to five points and only one 3-pointer.

“She is such a good shooter, so we wanted to take her out of her game,” Cash said. “Our girls did a nice job making it tough on her.”

Senior Jordan Yaniga kept the Panthers in the game, scoring 17 points, including a tough layup to cut Penn Hills’ lead to 46-40 with about three minutes to play.

But sophomore Jasmyn Golden connected on a 3-pointer, and Penn Hills made its free throws to push the advantage back to double figures.

When it was forced into turnovers, Franklin Regional contested shots and rarely gave up easy scores.

“Our girls played hard,” Kobus said. “If you look at it, we scored 43 without Cali (scoring like she does). Yaniga had us right in the game. That’s what she did all year. I have said it all season: We are a team, not just one player.”

Franklin Regional led for a flash, at 22-21, on a shot by junior Noelle Boyd. But junior Niya Moore and Brisker hits 3s to give the Indians a 28-23 lead at the half.

Penn Hills scored the first eight points of the third to stretch it to 36-23. Yaniga’s and-1 cut it to 37-30.

Yaniga followed with a pair of layups, and senior Alex Reitz added a basket to make it 40-36 early in the fourth.

Kobus thinks reaching the second round is an accomplishment for a program that has not been a factor in the postseason for decades.

“I told the girls, ‘Look what you accomplished,’ ” Kobus said. “We doubled our wins from last year, and I can’t even tell you the last time our girls made the quarterfinals before this year.”

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