Penn-Trafford girls edge Hampton, earn spot in state tournament

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Thursday, March 2, 2023 | 10:48 PM


Penn-Trafford has a year-end girls basketball banquet coming up, but coaches, players and their families won’t be talking about what might have been.

No, a new topic has suddenly entered the chat with this team: state playoffs.

The Warriors were not ready to surrender their season yet as they held back hard-charging Hampton, 49-44, in a tenuous, all-or-nothing WPIAL Class 5A seventh-place game Thursday night in Harrison City.

Penn-Trafford (17-9), which had lost three of its last four games, qualifies for its first state-playoff trip since 2013-14. It will play the District 3 winner, either Greencastle-Antrim or York Suburban, on March 11.

Hampton, which hasn’t been to the PIAA playoffs since 2016-17, ends the season at 15-11 after three straight postseason losses.

With a takeover type of fourth quarter, junior guard Olivia Pepple bailed out the Warriors, whose turnovers and poor free-throw shooting allowed the Talbots — and relentless junior guard Meghan Murray — to hang around for far too long.

The Warriors led by 17 late in the first half and 14 in the third quarter before Hampton made its late push.

The Talbots scored three points in the second quarter and 20 in the fourth.

Murray, who had a game-high 21 points, hit a 3-pointer to close out the third.

Early in the fourth, she made a floater in traffic and then scored on a drive to close the gap to 34-30 and then 36-32.

But Pepple honed in not only on the situation, but also the potentially disastrous outcome if the game slipped away.

She scored nine of the Warriors’ next 11 points, including a step-back 3 from the top of the key, two free throws, and a drive through contact, to put the Warriors up 45-37.

“We wanted this really bad,” Pepple said. “We had a good first half, but then we kept them in the game. I just said to myself, ‘I want to take over, now.’

“If we win, we advance. If we lose, we go home. We didn’t want to go home.”

Pepple had 11 of her team-high 17 in the fourth. Murray had 10 in the final quarter, including a 3 to make it 46-41 with 30 seconds left.

Freshman Tori DeStefano made three free throws to finally close out Hampton, which took one final swipe at the Warriors with a buzzer-beating 3 by junior Kate Milon to make the final score.

DeStefano went 6 of 8 from the foul line in the fourth.

The Warriors as a team were a drab 17 of 28 on free throws.

“Defensively, I thought we had a great game,” Warriors coach John Giannikas said. “We didn’t shoot it well. We were 2 for 15 from 3. I am proud of our kids. They found a way to get to the rim. They knew if they lost, it was over. They wanted to keep playing.”

Penn-Trafford had success driving the lane against the Talbots in the first half on the way to a 26-12 halftime lead.

Hampton, in turn, had just as much trouble getting to the rim.

The Talbots managed just three points in the second, on a 3 by Milon, who made four 3s and finished with 13 points.

Sophomore Lauren Marton scored 12 of her 15 points in the first half. She made four 3s.

“Lauren carried us in the first half,” Giannikas said. “Olivia carried us in the second. Kam (Pieper) did a good job on (Murray) for the most part. This was a good win for us.”

Murray, who eclipsed 1,000 career points two games ago, was held in check early.

She had five in the first half before posting 16 in the second.

Penn-Trafford had one field goal in the third when it went 4 of 10 from the foul line and allowed Hampton to reduce the margin to single digits.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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