North Allegheny captures 4th WPIAL title in 5 years with win over Upper St. Clair

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Saturday, March 13, 2021 | 10:00 PM


For the fourth time in five years, the North Allegheny girls basketball team got to lift the WPIAL Class 6A trophy.

Behind 24 points from senior Lizzy Groetsch, the top-seeded Tigers (24-1) led No. 2 Upper St. Clair for a majority of the game and utilized two big runs in the second and third quarter to cruise to a dominating 70-36 victory Saturday night.

For the past six seasons, North Allegheny has found itself on the WPIAL championship stage, and in four of those years, including this one, the Tigers came away with WPIAL gold. But this championship, which came in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, was one unlike any other.

“I mean we started the season late because of this (coronavirus pandemic) and then we had a state-ordered shutdown and then we had a high school-ordered shutdown because we had too many cases in the high school,” North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said. “These kids are the poster children for finding a way to not let that stuff be a distraction. It’s certainly unique and man, I’m speechless.”

As the Tigers lifted the trophy in celebration, Stefko didn’t look at their most recent victory as another title won or another season in the history books. He looked at it in terms of time.

As the WPIAL champions, the Tigers are the only WPIAL Class 6A girls team that has the opportunity to play in the PIAA tournament, meaning Stefko gets another week with his team.

“This gets me at least another week with a group that I’ve absolutely come to love,” Stefko said. “If there is one thing that the last year has shown us, I think it’s that time together matters and we get another week together, God willing, and is there a better prize right now? Tonight wasn’t a medal. Tonight is another week with kids we love profoundly.”

The Tigers worked their way to another title in typical fashion, using an all-around scoring effort, defensive pressure that held the Panthers (15-3) to just four points in the fourth quarter and eight in the third and the will to continue to work.

Upper St. Clair’s Alex Prunzik, who led the Panthers with 11 points, scored the first basket of the game on a 3-pointer from the left wing. North Allegheny’s Jasmine Timmerson responded with two layups to give the Tigers their first lead and spark an 8-0 run to take a five-point lead.

With 2:57 to go in the first quarter, Upper St. Clair coach Pete Serio called a timeout. On the biggest stage of the season, he wanted his young team to find a way to relax.

“We were just trying to get into our sets and do the things that would make us successful and not be so rushed to try and get through that pressure,” Serio said.

The Panthers came out of the timeout and rebounded. Ava Keating hit a layup, Paige Dellicarri hit a 3-pointer, and forward Katelyn Robbins scored the final four points of the quarter to give the Panthers a 12-11 lead.

But the Tigers chipped away and stayed steady throughout the quarter as the two teams traded the lead three times and were tied on three occasions.

“We kept hitting against the dam and at some point in the second quarter, the dam broke,” Stefko said.

With two minutes to go in the second frame, Groetsch hit a 3-pointer that sparked a 10-2 run to end the first half. The Tigers then scored the first five points of the second half and never looked back.

Their defensive pressure limited the Panthers to just 12 second-half points, and the Tigers scored 41 of their own to earn their second victory of the year over Upper St. Clair.

“That is a great team, and we tried our best, but that pressure, it finally got to us,” Serio said. “They are really athletic, and I mean you are talking about some really good athletes on that other side, and we just struggled with it. So hats off to North Allegheny.”

Paige Morningstar scored 14 for the Tigers while Timmerson finished with 13 and converted a few crucial layups into easy scores.

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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