Elizabeth Forward buckles down on defense to oust Knoch in Class 4A quarterfinals

Friday, February 23, 2024 | 9:54 PM

Elizabeth Forward got downright defensive Friday night, switching from man defense to a zone to stifle No. 6 Knoch and cruise into Tuesday’s WPIAL semifinals.

The Warriors forced 25 turnovers, many leading to easy layups in transition, to pick up a 43-31 win over the visiting Knights (14-10). Elizabeth Forward also dominated the glass, grabbing 13 more rebounds than Knoch. They finished with 13 offensive rebounds.

“We did everything we worked on that we wanted to do coming into this game,” Elizabeth Forward coach Noah Yartin said. “We knew we could dominate the glass. We did a great job of switching the ball screens on their dribble drive and our zone was fantastic. It definitely gave them trouble.”

The Knights led 7-4 early before the Warriors (21-2) went on a 9-0 run to take a 13-7 lead. They led 15-9 after the first quarter.

In the second quarter, it was another EF run doing damage, this one 7-0 to push the lead up to 24-14.

“We missed a lot of shots on our end,” Knoch coach Shane McGraw said. “They switched to the zone and we had a lot of trouble with it. Turnovers, way too many, and we just weren’t strong with the ball.”

Adah Fuller, who led the Knights with 12 points, scored seven of her team’s nine points in the second quarter as the Warriors went on to carry a 27-18 lead into the half.

Michelle Jellison was the catalyst for the Warriors over the first 16 minutes. The junior scored 13 of her game-high 15 in the first half.

“She said she was locked in and ready to go tonight, and we knew we’d have an advantage with her out there,” Yartin said. “A lot of teams key on Alyssa (Terza), but we have other players like Michelle that can hurt you. She’s very skilled with the ball. She can shoot it, she can attack the basket and she can get into her shots quick.

“Overall, even though they were bigger than us, I thought our skill gave us an advantage inside.”

The Knights came out ice cold from the floor in the third quarter, outscored 13-3 by the Warriors. The only points came from a Fuller three-point play with just under five minutes to go in the frame.

Sophomore guard Kaelynn Settles was a force on the defensive end for EF, picking up six steals and ripping down 12 rebounds. Seven of her rebounds were on the offensive end.

“Kaelynn, I think, is the best off-ball defender in maybe the entire WPIAL. She’s so good at reading passes and getting steals and deflections,” Yartin said. “On the boards, she’s been doing it all year. She can really read the ball off the rim and goes after it.”

McGraw said Settles was the most impressive player on the floor.

“She really impressed me. She’s a great athlete and when it comes to those rebounds, she just wanted the ball more than anyone on the floor,” he said.

Jellison hit two free throws and Terza, who finished with 12 points, hit a deep 3-pointer to put the Warriors up 38-21. Chloe Zombek added a steal and layup with 12 seconds to go in the quarter to make it 40-21 after three.

In the fourth, the Knights got a big 10-0 run late, and the Warriors went cold from the field, not scoring in the final 4:52. But it was a little too late and too many missed shots for the Knights.

“Our girls played hard, and they’re resilient,” McGraw said. “The season isn’t over yet. We have a quick turnaround and have to go win a consolation game to get into the state playoffs.”

The No. 3 Warriors advance to face No. 2 North Catholic (15-7) in the semifinals Tuesday. Knoch will face Central Valley in a consolation game Monday.

“We have to take better care of the ball, especially if we’re winning,” Yartin said. “We want to keep forcing those live-ball turnovers like we did tonight, and we want to limit how many of those we have. We try to keep it below 10, that’s something we didn’t do tonight.”

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