Upper St. Clair holds off Norwin in Class 6A semifinal battle

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 | 9:58 PM

The coaches — Upper St. Clair’s Pete Serio and Norwin’s Brian Brozeski — met at halfcourt with a mutual respect, it was clear, for each other’s program. The girls basketball game that just unfolded provided each with what’s sure to be a lasting memory.

No. 2 Upper St. Clair, playing at home, squeezed out a 33-31 victory in the WPIAL Class 6A semifinals on Wednesday night to advance to its first championship game under Serio, the Panthers’ seventh-year coach.

“These kids are really remarkable,” Serio said of his players. “They play so hard together. Our chemistry is just off the charts. That’s why we are where we are, because of the chemistry and our defense.”

Upper St. Clair (15-2) will play No. 1 North Allegheny (23-1) in the WPIAL championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday at Peters Township. The Panthers dropped a 39-27 decision to the Indians in the semifinals last year and again lost to them this year during the regular season 65-41.

Upper St. Clair reached the final by surviving Norwin’s last-second push that fell just short as the Knights were unable to tie the score when a desperation rebound shot wouldn’t fall at the buzzer.

“That team plays so hard,” Serio said of Norwin. “They are strong and got most of the 50-50 balls.”

Indeed, it was a defensive struggle, a first-one-to-30-wins kind of tussle.

Neither team led by more than five points, and that was just once at halftime — Upper St. Clair 20, Norwin 15 — thanks to a 6-0 run for USC in the final minute of the second quarter.

Both teams limited their opponents’ scoring all season, Norwin giving up an average of 34.2 points per game and Upper St. Clair 39.8. And both teams are playing without injured starters.

“Both sides try to bring that defensive gameplan to put you in an awkward situation or take you out of your comfort zone,” Brozeski said. “They were successful at that and we were, too. I’d like to flip around the USC and Norwin on the scoreline. That’s what we were hoping for.”

In the second half, neither team was able to take control. Upper St. Clair took the lead for good, 31-30, on a layup by Katelyn Robbins with 2 minutes, 28 seconds left.

It was Robbins’ 30-point, 20-rebound performance last season that spearheaded Upper St. Clair’s 52-39 upset of favored Norwin in the quarterfinals.

But Robbins managed just eight points in the latest meeting.

Sam Prunzik’s layup with 41 seconds remaining gave the the Panthers a 33-30 lead, and Norwin (13-5) failed to tie it on two 3-point attempts down the stretch while at the same time USC was missing three front ends of 1-and-1 situations at the free-throw line.

When Norwin’s Danielle Rosso picked up a loose ball and dribbled down the left side with time winding down, Norwin had one last chance to tie. But Rosso was fouled before she could get a shot off with three-tenths of a second showing.

After a timeout, Rosso sank the first of a 1-and-1 before intentionally missing the second attempt, which bounced off the rim to teammate Lauren Palangio, whose hurried putback was no good.

As the horn sounded, Brozeski smiled and clapped, honoring his players for their fight.

Norwin came in having advanced to the semifinals for the fourth time in seven seasons.

Serio, whose team also reached the semifinals last year, stood virtually motionless and staring for a few seconds then began to celebrate with his assistants, including wife Suzie McConnell-Serio, a former high school coach at Oakland Catholic and later with the WNBA Minnesota Lynx as well as at Duquesne and Pitt.

In a rarity in basketball, no player scored in double figures on either team.

Paige Dellicarri led Upper St. Clair with nine points on a trio of 3-pointers in the first half. Norwin’s Brianna Zajicek led the Knights with nine points, including two 3-point shots.

Norwin led Upper St. Clair 9-8 after one quarter before trailing by five at halftime. Upper St. Clair held a 25-22 lead after three quarters, then Norwin outscored the Panthers 9-8 in the fourth.

“We had the mindset to go in and have an opportunity at the end,” Brozeski said.

In the end, one team had to win.

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