Elizabeth Forward girls fend off Knoch to advance

Monday, February 18, 2019 | 10:56 PM

With less than two minutes remaining, No. 5 Elizabeth Forward led No. 12 Knoch by just two, and the Knights seemingly had momentum.

But the Knights’ upset bid was halted by a late 3-pointer as Elizabeth Forward prevailed 51-42 in the first round of the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs Monday at Mt. Lebanon.

Coming out of a timeout, Elizabeth Forward senior Haylee Briggs’ 3-pointer in front of the Warriors bench extended Elizabeth Forward’s lead to 44-39, and Knoch never threatened again.

“She stepped up. That kid never gets enough credit. She stepped up with intensity and made that shot,” Elizabeth Forward coach Krystal Gibbs said.

Senior Bri Spirnak led the Warriors (16-7) with 21 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter. Spirnak, who was 9 for 10 from the free-throw line in the closing minutes.

Freshman Bailie Brinson added 12 points, including a couple buckets that resulted from the Warriors successfully breaking Knoch’s press.

Junior Skyler Burkett led the Knights (9-14) with 16 points, including four 3-pointers — one in each quarter. Sophomore Nevaeh Ewing added 13 points, including three 3-pointers.

“It was tough. We dictated the pace of the game,” Knoch coach Chris Andreassi said. “Offensively, we were pretty patient with it to get great shots. Defensively, we went after them pretty well.”

Spirnak scored six of the eight points as the Warriors started the game on an 8-0 run. Elizabeth Forward led 12-5 after the first.

In the second quarter, Elizabeth Forward held a 10-point lead three times, but the Knights finished the half on an 8-0 run to narrow the deficit to 21-19 at halftime.

“We didn’t play our game tonight,” Gibbs said. “We were off shooting. We just didn’t play our game, and we were really off.”

Knoch junior Abby Shearer hit a runner in the final seconds of the half to cap the second quarter run for the Knights.

The Knights carried the momentum into the second half as they took their first lead of the game at 22-21 on a Burkett 3.

“It meant a lot. We came out in the third quarter playing with a lot of confidence,” Andreassi said. “I think we played well in the third quarter. We moved the ball on offense, and we got some open shots but some didn’t fall.”

With the score tied 23-23 in the third, the Warriors went on a 6-0 run, including four points from senior Juria Flournoy, to create some separation from the Knights.

The Knights were within 35-32 at the end of the third quarter.

Spirnak and Brinson were returning from injury for this playoff run.

Gibbs hopes for a cleaner showing the next her team steps on the court. Elizabeth Forward plays No. 13 Quaker Valley (13-9) in the quarterfinals Thursday at site and time to be determined.

“It was ugly but it was a win,” Gibbs said. “A win is a win in playoffs. I think we struggled. These are kids are struggling with injury, but we were able to preserve and fight through the pain.

“I have a senior-heavy team, so tomorrow isn’t promised. I told them they have to put every ounce of energy and heart into these games, or we’re done.”

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