Knoch girls keep Blackhawk offense in check, but Cougars prevail in PIAA 2nd round

Wednesday, March 15, 2023 | 8:51 PM

For three quarters Knoch scrapped, clawed and hounded Blackhawk on defense while making enough shots to keep a lead.

That defensive effort carried over into the fourth, but a long dry spell on the offensive end doomed the Knights’ chances of pulling an upset.

The Cougars held the Knights to three points in the final quarter, and it was enough to squeak by with a 38-35 win in the second round of the PIAA Class 4A girls basketball playoffs Wednesday night at Hampton.

Knoch (18-10) held Blackhawk (23-4) to 10 field goals in the game but, ultimately, fell short in a rematch of last season’s WPIAL Class 4A title game, which Blackhawk won 55-35.

“We’ve been playing that way defensively, and I knew we would tonight, too,” Knoch coach Chris Andreassi said. “There’s not a lot I have to say to them, because they are ready to go when the game starts. We just needed to score enough points to win, and that didn’t happen tonight.”

The Cougars advanced to play District 10 champ Fairview in the state quarterfinals Saturday.

Knoch had a couple of chances to tie it in the final 30 seconds, but a pair of 3-point attempts by Hattie McGraw were missed. The second one was a long shot as time was running out.

Knoch led 32-30 after three quarters, but Alena Fusetti hit a 3-pointer early in the third to give the Cougars their first lead at 35-32 and they never relinquished.

The Knights had done well defensively all game on Fusetti, Blackhawk’s leading scorer. She finished with seven points but stepped up late.

“You’re not going to hold down Alena much,” Blackhawk coach Steve Lodovico said. “To shoot like that and still make the big shot at the end says what her mindset is.”

Aubree Hupp added a key bucket and a pair of free throws in the fourth.

Meanwhile, Knoch couldn’t get any shots to fall until Nina Shaw hit a runner late.

It was the only basket the Knights made, and the Cougars won the frame 8-3.

Lodovico said experience from last year’s state playoff run helped the Cougars down the stretch.

They’re savvy and they’re not afraid of the spotlight,” Lodovico said. “Even though we didn’t have the lead we were still confident. My assistant coach Dave Florentine said we’re going to win this going into the fourth. We just needed to continue to do what we needed to do.”

Knoch was strong out of the gates. McGraw hit a pair of 3s to help the Knights build a 12-6 lead after one.

The Knights continued to frustrate the Cougars in the second and held a 19-17 lead at halftime.

“This is game 27 for us and that was the best defensive team we’ve played,” Lodovico said. “They didn’t pressure us, but they knew every set we ran, and we have a lot of them. It’s like a football card with how many sets we have. They were in the gaps taking away everything and they switched everything. It threw us off balance, so we knew we had to change some stuff up at halftime.”

One of the big adjustments Blackhawk made was isolating Hupp in the post. Hupp, a freshman, had 10 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, continuing a good run of form since being inserted into the lineup for injured senior Quinn Borroni at the start of the district playoffs.

Shaw led Knoch with 13 points.

She is one of six seniors who will graduate alongside McGraw, Megan Vasas, Paige Rodgers, Jessica Burgard and Alessandra Natali. In their four years, Knoch was 67-23 with a WPIAL championship appearance and a pair of state playoff wins.

“It’s the four best years in Knoch girls basketball history,” Andreassi said. “We’re very proud of that. They can hold their heads high.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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