Peters Township girls beat 2-time defending champion North Allegheny in OT to win Class 6A title

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Saturday, March 2, 2019 | 9:21 PM


High-scoring Peters Township was lulled into playing North Allegheny’s game in the WPIAL Class 6A championship, which meant a defense-first approach, and that the final score probably was going to resemble a men’s pants size or a recent high-low temperature on the local weather report.

The Indians looked quite comfortable playing a rare close game, though, on an immense stage, and grinded out a 43-40 overtime victory over two-time defending champion North Allegheny on Saturday night at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

Mackenzie Lehman sent the game to overtime with a layup, then made a key steal and basket early in the extra frame to help lift Peters Township to its first WPIAL girls hoops title.

Top-seeded Peters Township capped a perfect WPIAL season, at 25-0, becoming the 18th girls team in the sport to win a District 7 title with a perfect record.

North Allegheny (23-2), making its fourth straight finals appearance, made some outstanding defensive plays late in regulation, leading 38-36, before Lehman tied it with 6.9 seconds.

Penn State recruit Makenna Marisa led Peters Township with 17 points, 12 in the first quarter, while Isabella Mills and Lehman had 10 apiece.

Mills made two free throws with 26.1 to play in overtime to make it 43-40, which followed a turnover by North Allegheny.

“That was probably as exciting of a girls basketball game as we’ve had all year,” Indians coach Bert Kendall said. “I am proud of how we hung in there and pulled it out. We had to reach deep and go get it. It was as much about desire and taking it than it was anything.”

The Indians found redemption after losing to North Allegheny in the title game a year ago.

North Allegheny blew past the Indians that night, 79-48.

“We were never down by a lot,” Marisa said of the title-game rematch. “We had to stay positive. We trust each other. We know we can come back. We gathered ourselves; the doubt never stayed.”

Lehman’s pair of plays proved pivotal in this win.

Lehman said Kendall told her after both plays, “Not bad for a lacrosse player.”

“She came up big,” Kendall said. “She is a gamer. She has great length. We said in the timeout, if you anticipate the pass and use your outside hand, we’re going to get a steal. Sure enough, it just happened.”

Akron recruit Rachel Martindale led North Allegheny with 15 points and Lizzy Groetsch had eight.

Marisa, who came in averaging 22.3 points, scored 12 points in the opening quarter, connecting on 5 of her first 6 shots as the Indians built leads of 7-3 and 14-10.

North Allegheny slowed the pace substantially in the second quarter and held Marisa scoreless. The Indians managed just four points against the Tigers’ defense and trailed 19-18 at halftime.

The Indians defense picked up as the second half wore on, especially early in the fourth.

North Allegheny led 30-22 in the third after a drive by Groetsch before the Indians answered. Mills hit a 3 to key a 14-2 run that pulled the Indians in front, 36-32.

North Allegheny snatched the momentum quickly in the fourth, scoring six straight points and making several defensive stops as it clung to a 38-36 lead.

Paige Morningstar made a steal with 1:10 left; Groetsch blocked a shot and forced a tie-up with Marisa; and Morningstar picked off another pass with 39 seconds left.

“Today, you kind of feel like you’re playing with house money,” North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said. “You already qualified for the state tournament. So you go in and have fun. Against a good defensive team, that’s all you get. We tried to push the tempo, but you play a little slower when you can’t get them to breakdown. I am as proud of my team in defeat as I would be in victory.”

In overtime, after Mills gave the Indians a one-point lead, Lehman intercepted a pass near midcourt and drove in for a layup to make it 41-38.

Katrina Balouris, the Tigers’ semifinal hero against Norwin, scored inside but could not convert the three-point play and the Indians led 41-40 with 1:30 left.

A turnover on an inbounds play with 1:03 left gave Peters possession, and the Tigers were whistled for a travel with 32.2 to go as they struggled to regain the lead.

Mills went 2 for 2 at the line with 26.1 remaining to make it 43-40.

“I was kind of freaking out,” Mills said. “But I just told myself, do what you do in practice.”

Stefko was pleased with his team’s defensive effort, particularly in holding Marisa to five points over the second half and overtime.

“Makenna Marisa made college shots; she earned every one of those,” Stefko said. “Lizzy (Groetsch) could not have guarded her any better. We didn’t want her to get comfortable. She is enough of a nightmare to start with.”

For Martindale, it was a return to the floor where she tore her ACL a year ago — in the finals, against Peters Township.

“We were never comfortable in that game, and we knew it was going to be a grind,” Martindale said. “At any point, anybody could have had the lead. We had to work for everything.”

Stefko made his sixth straight appearance in the finals.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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