North Allegheny girls shut down Upper St. Clair, get back to WPIAL Class 6A finals

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Tuesday, February 25, 2020 | 10:38 PM


On the bus ride to North Hills, members of the North Allegheny girls basketball team chatted back and forth about what their keys were going to be defensively.

At the front of the bus, Tigers coach Spencer Stefko sat back and listened in like a proud parent.

Stefko is appreciative of how much the defensive side of the floor means to his players, and Tuesday night, they showed the lockdown defensive team they can be.

The No. 2 Tigers held No. 6 Upper St. Clair without a field goal for 13-plus minutes and shut them out in the second quarter en route to a 39-27 win in the Class 6A semifinals.

North Allegheny (21-3) advanced to the WPIAL championships for the fifth year in a row, all five of Stefko’s years as a coach.

The Tigers will play top-ranked Bethel Park in the finals at 7 p.m. Saturday at Petersen Events Center. It’s a rematch of the 2017 final, which the Tigers won, 50-39. The Panthers (14-8) will continue their season in the PIAA tournament.

“I think this is important. I haven’t made a defensive assignment all year,” Stefko said. “That side of the floor matters so much to them that they coach themselves. I’m humbled by that. We preach defense. At the end of the day, how many coaches have a group that walk away and believe it? More kids are more worried about chapter one of the book (offense) and not interested in the second chapter.”

After Upper St. Clair’s Samantha Prunzik and Paige Dellicarri canned a pair of 3-pointers each to give the Panthers a 12-11 lead at the end of the first quarter, North Allegheny allowed only six field goals for the remainder of the game.

The prowess of guards Jasmine Timmerson and Taylor Rawls up top combined with forwards Paige Morningstar, Kat Baloruis and Lizzy Groetsch made life difficult on the Panthers. Morningstar had four blocks, while Groetsch, Timmerson and Rawls made multiple steals each.

“We were locked in today,” Stefko said. “In big games, if you can get five girls locked in on defense — and we broke down once or twice, because we’re not perfect — but if you can get five kids that interested in that side of the floor, it’s a coach’s dream.

“(Upper St. Clair) is a really good team. They are going to be for a long time. I hope we don’t have to see them again this year or for a long time.”

During the 13-plus minute stretch without a field goal, Upper St. Clair, which started four freshmen, subbed players in and out looking for a spark, but couldn’t breach the Tigers defense.

Katelyn Robbins sank a free throw to end an 11-minute drought and then hit a shot inside two minutes later for the first field goal since the final minute of the first quarter.

Upper St. Clair stayed within 10 points for the majority of the tough stretch offensively, but the lack of baskets was too hard to overcome.

“It was just inexperience,” Panthers coach Pete Serio said. “Their defense is pretty good too. Let’s not forget that. It was a big game for some of the younger kids and stuff happens. We played good defense, but we didn’t make any shots. We held them to 39 points, so I’m thrilled with my defense.

“We’ll take a couple days off, and then we have the state tournament. We have to get better, work harder and try to seize an opportunity. If we can play good defense like that in the state tournament, then maybe we can make some shots.”

Groetsch, a Penn commit, led the Tigers with 17 points and went 10 for 11 from the free-throw line. She was unaware that the Tigers shut out the Panthers in the second quarter but knew that they played good team defense.

“On defense, we played really hard tonight,” Groetsch said. “I think that’s what got us going and helped us bust it open.”

Prunzik, Robbins and Dellicari had six points each to lead the Panthers.

Listen to an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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