There aren't many girls teams in the WPIAL playing better late-season basketball than Hempfield and Greensburg Central Catholic.
When the teams met in the opener of the Shootout at Seton Hill, only one continued its upswing.
Hempfield overcame a slow start — and a strong first-half push from GCC — with a defensively charged third-quarter surge to take down the Centurions, 55-35, on Saturday afternoon at McKenna Center.
Hempfield (10-9) led 25-24 at halftime but limited GCC to one point in the third, opening the quarter with an 11-0 run to take command of its fourth consecutive win.
“I wasn't happy with the first half and gave them an earful at halftime,” Hempfield coach Lindsy Muchnock said. “I thought we really stepped up and battled in the second half.”
Hempfield, which clinched its 17th consecutive WPIAL playoff spot with a 50-45 win over Penn Hills on Friday, has won 5 of 6. That also includes impressive wins over Altoona and Latrobe.
GCC (10-8), still in the thick of the Section 3-2A title chase, has won 8 of 10. The Centurions have made the WPIAL playoffs for 18 consecutive seasons.
Senior guard Allison Podkul led all scorers with 17 points for Hempfield and was awarded the game's Most Valuable Player plaque. Sophomore teammate Sarah Liberatore added 16 points, making 7 of 9 free throws.
GCC ended the first quarter on a 6-0 run, including a 3 from junior Bella Skatell, to cut the deficit to 13-10.
Riley Sullebarger connected on a 3 late in the second quarter to give Hempfield a 23-17 lead.
Anna Eisaman and Heaven Hester made back-to-back hoops to trim it to 25-24 at the break.
But Sullebarger opened the third with a 3 and made a layup to bookend the pivotal run.
“It took us a while to wake up,” Podkul said. “Our defense really stepped up, and that really helped our offense. We worked well together and made smart passes.”
A 19-1 run Hempfield run was quelled by a three-point play from Skatell with 5 minutes, 46 seconds left in the fourth, but Hempfield's lead had swelled to 44-28 by then.
“We got selfish, and that killed us,” GCC coach Joe Eisaman said. “Hempfield is playing really well right now. They're playing 6A teams every night. We have to learn how to make extra passes and finish better.”
Liberatore and Maddy Gray made 3s late for Hempfield to push the advantage over 20.
“We did a better job of limiting their penetration and second-chance points,” Muchnock said. “We're finding ways to close out games. We did a much better job of getting the 50-50 balls and got more energy going.”
Hempfield outscored GCC in the second half 30-11.
“We have to play for 32 minutes,” Eisaman said. “We're not a playoff team right now, at least not one that can win in the playoffs.”
Skatell led GCC with 11 points, and sophomore Melina Maietta and junior Anna Eisaman had nine apiece.
Muchnock is a Seton Hill graduate, so Saturday marked a homecoming.
“It's cool to come back,” she said. “I have a lot of memories here. I'll never forget making it to the NCAA Tournament.”
And now her team is set to embark on the WPIAL tournament.