Knoch girls defeat perennial contender Blackhawk, earn 1st trip to semifinals

Friday, March 5, 2021 | 8:48 PM

Even with the late start to the season, March basketball has come to the Knoch girls program.

The Knights secured a berth in the WPIAL semifinals for the first time in history Friday night with a 51-45 victory over perennial contender Blackhawk in the Class 4A quarterfinals.

Sophomore Nina Shaw led the way with 21 points, including five 3-pointers. Madilyn Boyer added 13.

The Knights held Blackhawk, Class 4A’s highest-scoring team at 62.4 points per game, to four in the fourth quarter.

Knoch was holding a precarious 47-45 lead when the Knights missed three consecutive free throws. Boyer made the back end of a two-shot foul to put the Knight up 48-45. A 3-point try to tie the score by Blackhawk’s Casey Nixon fell short, and Shaw hit three straight free throws to secure the long-awaited victory.

The 10-1 Knights, seeded fourth, will face No. 1 Beaver in the semifinals Tuesday.

“These girls just love the game of basketball,” Knoch coach Chris Andreassi said. “We’ve never played in March before, and they would play into July if that’s how far the season went.”

The Knights were off their 3-point shooting game early, missing 7 of 8 from behind the arc to start the game and 2 of 14 overall in the first quarter.

But Knoch made three straight 3s in three possessions in one stretch after Blackhawk had its largest lead, 15-10, at the quarter break. The Knights built a 29-24 halftime lead via seven 3-point field goals and only two 2-pointers in the half.

No. 5 Blackhawk, in the playoffs for the 14th straight season, finished 13-6.

“We didn’t play our best game,” Cougars coach Steve Lodovico said. “A lot of that was due to Knoch. They just did a good job. I thought Nina of Knoch controlled the entire show out there. We really didn’t have an answer for her in the first half.”

Starting with an 18-second Knoch offensive sequence to end the half, Lodovico had his defense push the Knights beyond the arc and forcing off-balanced shots when the Knoch managed to work the ball inside.

“We did a better job in the second half,” Lodovico said. “We like to press and trap, but we couldn’t do either of those, especially the way Nina handled the ball.”

The Cougars finally took the lead at 39-38 on a basket by Jolie Strati as Piper Romigh stole the ball in the Knoch backcourt and fed Strati from her knees.

Navaeh Ewing’s basket on a dribble-drive put Knoch in front 47-43 with 2 minutes, 29 seconds to go as Shaw directed the half-court offense, taking considerable time off the clock before Blackhawk was forced to foul.

“I thought I just had to make one of these. One would make a difference,” Shaw said. “We have this one play in practice where four are out (around), and I have to dribble through them. It’s not like a coincidence. We were ready for that.”

Shaw clinched the game with a steal with 14 seconds to go.

“I’m proud of this group to be in a close game like this and keep their composure,” Andreassi said. “They got a good trial run when we played Hampton with two minutes left and won (50-46), and our second group in practice (Thursday) you would not believe how hard they worked them. So we were prepared being up by two, up by four late.”

Blackhawk was won 49 playoff games under Lodovico’s guidance and 297 overall victories since taking over the program in 2005.

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