Spirnak lifts No. 5 Elizabeth Forward past upset-minded Quaker Valley in quarterfinals

Thursday, February 21, 2019 | 9:35 PM

With Quaker Valley pushing Elizabeth Forward to the edge late in the fourth quarter, Bri Spirnak did what she had been doing all game: She stayed tough and found a way to score.

The No. 13-seeded Quakers cut the lead to three points on two occasions with less than two minutes remaining, but both times Spirnak answered with a basket to quell any thoughts of a second consecutive upset bid, and the No. 5 Warriors escaped with a 46-38 victory in the WPIAL Class 4A girls basketball quarterfinals Thursday at North Hills.

“You just have to stay calm during those last few minutes,” Spirnak said. “Everyone gets flustered. The other team gets flustered, and you just have to take a deep breath and try to make those tough shots.”

The Warriors advanced to play top-seeded North Catholic (20-3) in the semifinals Monday. They also secured a berth in the PIAA playoffs.

Spirnak followed a 21-point performance in the first round against Knoch with a game-high 23 points.

None were bigger than her final two baskets.

After QV’s Bailey Garbee connected on a layup with two minutes remaining, Spirnak answered with a basket just inside the paint. After a timeout, Garbee responded with a runner off a cut to the basket to make it 41-38, but on the next possession Spirnak rebounded a missed shot and fought her way inside to make a contested layup.

Spirnak’s final basket was similar to several she had made in the game. She had to battle inside, but more often than not she used her height advantage at 6-foot-1 and found a way to get the ball in the hoop.

“It is never easy for her to be honest,” Elizabeth Forward coach Krystal Gibbs said. “When she’s able to shoot that outside shot and nobody’s watching her, that’s easy, but anytime it’s a shot underneath it’s tough. There’s people hanging on her sometimes, and she’s not getting a foul call, but she’s persevering through it.”

Bailie Brinson and Juria Flournoy made free throws in the final 30 seconds to put the game away. Elizabeth Forward was 12 of 14 from the line. Gibbs said foul shooting hadn’t been a strong point for the Warriors during the season, so she was happy to see her team shine from the line.

“The last two days we’ve done a lot more foul shooting,” Gibbs said. “I separated them into groups and did some quiet foul shooting, but, hey, if it that is what has to be done it’s what has to be done.”

Quaker Valley (13-10) was within five points of Elizabeth Forward (17-7) for the majority of the second half and held a brief 22-20 lead in the third quarter. Garbee paved the way for the Quakers with 19 points, and Corrine Washington scored 13. The only other Quaker on the score sheet was Maura Conlin with six points.

“Bailey had a good game, but we felt going in like we needed more girls to score and to have a balanced scoring,” Quaker Valley coach Tom Demko said. “But down three with a couple minutes left … we were right in it. It’s just a matter of the ball bouncing this way or that way. Spirnak made a rebound and a tough shot that was a killer.”

Quaker Valley can still qualify for the PIAA playoffs if North Catholic wins a WPIAL title or Elizabeth Forward reaches the championship game. The Quakers will return their entire roster next season.

“This experience is only going to help our young team going forward,” Demko said. “I’m proud of my girls. They played a tough team to within three points late.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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