Going into a clash Monday night between Norwin and Upper St. Clair, the Knights and Panthers had solid arguments for the right to be considered the top team in Class 6A.

Not anymore.

Although the game had no bearing on the teams’ final standings in section play, it could prove pivotal when it comes time to determine the No. 1 seed for the WPIAL playoffs. And after the way Upper St. Clair dismantled Norwin over the first three quarters before holding off a late rally by the Knights in a 56-45 win, there’s no questioning at this point the Panthers’ place as the top dogs in Class 6A.

“That’s a really, really good team. They’re not going away quietly,” Upper St. Clair coach Pete Serio said. “That’s what I told the kids — ‘We’ve got to regroup and relax. I never expected them to not come back with a fight. How we respond to it will dictate how this game ends.’ “

Upper St. Clair forward Kate Robbins (42) scored 14 points while playing her trademark defense in the paint in a 56-45 win against Norwin Monday night at Upper St. Clair. (Steve Rotstein/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Kate Robbins and Rylee Kalocay led the Panthers with 14 points apiece, while Mia Brown added 12 and Liv Terlecki chipped in with 11. Robbins is a 6-foot-1 senior forward and Marist recruit who is widely considered one of the top post players in the area — as is her counterpart, Norwin 6-1 junior forward Lauren Palangio. Both players had their moments in this matchup, as Palangio finished with 9 points, but it was Robbins who had the last laugh.

Despite playing with four fouls for much of the second half, Robbins came up with some big plays on the defensive end, including a fourth-quarter block that brought the crowd to its feet. She also stepped out and effortlessly drained a 3-pointer, showing off her increased range and versatile skill set in one of the most hyped games of this season so far.

“It was a good old-fashioned battle, seeing two polished post players do a little bit of everything,” Norwin coach Brian Brozeski said about the battle between Robbins and Palangio. “Kate even had a 3-ball. She has that on the scouting report. … That’s what makes her tough. She can penetrate, she can post you up, and she has a mid-range game.

“When you can attack from three facets of the game, you’re tough to guard.”

Robbins typically is viewed as Upper St. Clair’s centerpiece, but the Panthers’ depth and balance is their calling card. Kalocay is making a name for herself as one of the WPIAL’s most talented sophomores, and she showed up when it mattered most by converting all eight of her free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter after a quiet first half.

“It’s great. Whenever Rylee is at the line, we know it’s going in,” Brown said.

Brown is a knockdown shooter who burst onto the scene alongside Robbins and fellow senior Sam Prunzik in 2019, when the trio of freshmen emerged as key starters for an Upper St. Clair team that reached the WPIAL semifinals. A devastating knee injury then sidelined Brown for her entire sophomore season and a large chunk of her junior year, and another knee injury kept her from taking the court as a senior until recently.

She’s still far from 100% healthy, but you would never guess that Brown still is battling through pain by the way she played Monday night.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Brown said. “I think we really came together. Communication was key. I’m happy we pulled it off.”

With Brown back in the lineup alongside Robbins and Kalocay, the Panthers now have their three top scorers back together for the stretch run. That being said, no player is more important to Upper St. Clair’s title hopes than Prunzik, a 5-4 senior point guard who orchestrates the whole show and facilitates easy scoring opportunities for her teammates while playing lights-out defense.

Prunzik finished with only 5 points Monday, but she certainly made her presence felt while hounding Norwin point guard Bailey Snowberger on the defensive end. She also played the entire 32 minutes without taking a rest while navigating a full-court press, helping the Panthers survive the Knights rally with Robbins and Kalocay in foul trouble.

“Sam Prunzik played 32 minutes, played under all that pressure, and didn’t have a turnover at that point,” Serio said. “Maybe she doesn’t score as many points as everybody else, but we wouldn’t even come close to winning that game without her.”

Throw in veteran wing Paige Dellicarri and the hot-shooting Terlecki, and Upper St. Clair has a loaded arsenal of playmakers that are each capable of making teams pay if left unchecked. With such a potent blend of youth and experience, not to mention plenty of size and versatility, the Panthers are going to be a popular pick to make it back to Petersen Events Center for the second year in a row — and this time, to win the whole thing.

Good luck trying to decide who to stop.

“We’ve been hungry for [a WPIAL title] ever since we’ve all been young,” Robbins said. “It’s always been one of our dreams. … We’re ready to put in the work and do what we have to do in order to get there.”

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.