North Allegheny girls celebrate 1st PIAA title, top Spring-Ford in state finals

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Friday, March 26, 2021 | 6:59 PM


HERSHEY — North Allegheny’s Lizzy Groetsch and Paige Morningstar were together at Giant Center four years ago when the Tigers last reached the state finals, and they talked then about someday winning a title.

Their day arrived Friday.

Groetsch shook off early foul trouble to score a game-high 22 points and Morningstar had 16 as North Allegheny defeated Spring-Ford, 55-40, in the PIAA Class 6A championship to win the team’s first state title. The Tigers fell short in 2017, an outcome these seniors were determined to avoid.

“My God, it means the world,” Groetsch said. “There have been so many great teams here at NA, and I’ve been blessed to be a part of so many of them. But the fact that we were able to get it done our senior year is really special.”

North Allegheny (27-1) believed last season might’ve been its year, but the pandemic dashed those hopes when the state playoffs were shut down early. Yet, this winter, the team regrouped and readied for another run.

“We definitely made up for what we lost last year,” Morningstar said. “This is what we wanted, and we got it.”

This was a challenging year with strict covid-related protocols, but that didn’t stop them either.

“Our slogan this year was whatever it takes,” Morningstar said. “We did what we had to do. We were smart off the court as well as on the court.”

North Allegheny reached the state semifinals in 2014, ’16 and ’18, but this championship appearance was only the second in team history.

This team was special, NA coach Spencer Stefko said, because it had both an abundance of talent and no egos in the locker room. Groetsch is a Penn basketball recruit. Morningstar is headed to Louisville for volleyball. Sophomore guard Jasmin Timmerson already holds Division I basketball offers.

Morningstar also won WPIAL and PIAA volleyball titles in the fall.

“We have kids like Paige and kids like Jasmin and at times kids like Lizzy who absolutely can be the alpha anywhere,” Stefko said. “None of them ever feel the need to be an alpha. They’ll be the alpha when they need to, but they don’t need to get into an ego contest.”

The loss was the first for Spring-Ford (24-1), which was chasing its second state title.

Spring-Ford’s Lucy Olsen led with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Emily Tiffan scored 14 points. Olsen, a Villanova recruit, was limited by foul trouble and went 3 for 14 shooting.

As a team, Spring-Ford shot just 23.5% from the field and made only 6 of 29 shots from beyond the arc.

Spring-Ford led for a total of 16 seconds, all in the first quarter, but the District 1 champion wouldn’t go away easy. North Allegheny’s lead was only three points with 2 minutes left in the third, before the Tigers pulled away with a 16-5 run that stretched into the fourth.

Groetsch and Morningstar combined for 10 points in the run to lead 48-34 with about 4 minutes left. Morningstar added six free throws in the final 90 seconds.

At times, it wasn’t certain Groetsch would be around for the fourth quarter. She had two first-quarter fouls and drew her third with more than 4 minutes left in the second quarter.

“I’ve battled foul trouble a lot this year because I’m a pretty aggressive player,” Groetsch said. “So I’ve definitely been in that situation before. … I feel bad because I’m begging him to put me back in.”

With Groetsch on the bench, North Allegheny’s lead shrunk from seven points to one in less than 2 minutes, so Stefko agreed to let her play with three fouls.

Groetsch didn’t draw a fourth foul until there were only 70 seconds left in the fourth.

“Our ship was getting a little unsteady for a minute or two,” Stefko said. “For a kid to be able to play with three fouls in the first half, there’s not a whole lot of kids that can do that. I’ll tell you this: I wasn’t putting her back in unless she told me I had to put her back in.”

North Allegheny led 24-21 at half and 38-31 after three.

“The reason this feels so great is because they’re a great team,” Stefko said. “When you get a chance to play 24-0 in a championship game, it’s special.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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