There aren’t many rivalries better than North Allegheny vs. Norwin in WPIAL girls basketball.
Although North Allegheny has held the upper hand in recent years, Norwin did win by 21 earlier this season, and North Allegheny’s 38-36 victory in the WPIAL semifinals was as close as they come. So when the Class 6A Section 1 foes met for the fourth time this season Friday night at Fox Chapel High School, there was no reason to think Norwin would be overmatched against the red-hot WPIAL champs.
Still, few would have expected Norwin to roll by 20, but that’s exactly what the Knights did — executing a masterful defensive performance to earn a 50-30 win and a spot in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals. Norwin outscored the Tigers by a 17-5 margin in the fourth quarter to seal the upset win — if you can even call it an upset.
“You’ve got to learn from the past, but also embrace the future,” Knights coach Brian Brozeski said. “The way the girls went ahead and just found that extra gear and that extra effort to go after rebounds and 50-50 balls — that was the big difference for us.”
Sophomore standout Kendall Berger kept up her high-scoring ways with a 19-point effort, including a four-point play in the fourth quarter to put the game away for good. Ava Kobus added 11 points to go with 10 from Lauren Palangio, while Jasmine Timmerson and Lydia Betz led North Allegheny with 10 points apiece.
“We all remembered that feeling,” Berger said about the sting of the WPIAL semifinal defeat against the Tigers. “Coming into this game, we were excited to take back that upper hand. … We weren’t even expected to make it this far. We’ve come so far, so that’s definitely motivation that we’ve used.”
Berger got out to a hot start with 11 points in the first half as Norwin took a 21-13 lead into the break, but North Allegheny began to mount a rally early in the third quarter. The Tigers cut the Knights’ lead to 22-19 on a 3-pointer by Caroline Henderson. Norwin responded and led, 33-25, going into the fourth after Henderson banked in a buzzer-beater from just beyond halfcourt to cut the margin once again.
But the Knights quickly regained control, with Ava Kobus nailing a 3-pointer and Berger following it with one of her own while getting fouled. Norwin went up, 42-26, after the free throw to complete the four-point play, and the Knights cruised to clinch their first trip to the state semifinals since 2014.
“I think the girls had the right mindset,” Brozeski said. “They didn’t feel threatened, they felt challenged, and they wanted to overcome the challenge.”
Other Class 6A
• After a pair of impressive wins to reach the PIAA quarterfinals, Upper St. Clair (23-4) was hoping to force an all-WPIAL matchup in the Western Region finals, but undefeated District 3 champion Cedar Cliff (29-0) had other ideas. Cedar Cliff shut down the Panthers, holding them to only one made field goal until late in the third quarter. Cedar Cliff held a 29-10 lead late in the third en route to a 39-22 victory at Altoona High School, setting up a showdown against Norwin in Monday’s state semifinals.
• Fresh off an upset win against WPIAL champion Avonworth, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (21-7) kept up its Cinderella run with a 47-32 win against District 6 runner-up Westmont Hilltop (27-3) at Armstrong High School. Mia Grisafi scored a game-high 18 points for the Chargers, who have won five games in a row to reach the state semifinals following a fifth-place finish in the WPIAL playoffs. All three of OLSH’s wins in the PIAA tournament have come by 15-plus points.
• Shady Side Academy (25-4) had its hopes of setting up an all-WPIAL matchup in the Class 3A semifinals foiled by District 6 champion River Valley (28-2), which cruised to a 54-21 win at Armstrong.
• In a matchup between the WPIAL’s fifth-place finisher, Greensburg Central Catholic, and WPIAL champion Shenango (24-5), it was Greensburg Central (24-5) that dominated on its way to a 53-35 win at Fox Chapel to reach the PIAA semifinals. Erica Gribble scored a game-high 19 points, while Avery Davis added 18 and Mya Morgan finished with 11 for Greensburg Central. Jamie Natalie led the Wildcats with 11 points. The Centurions move on to face District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic (24-4) on Monday for a spot in the state title game.
Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.