On one hand, it seems like all the odds are stacked in Norwin’s favor going into a colossal Class 6A championship game at 7 p.m. Friday against North Allegheny at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.

After all, the Knights (20-3) have already beaten the Tigers twice this year, accounting for both of North Allegheny’s losses on the season — including a commanding 20-point home win in their second matchup on Jan. 25. Norwin is the rightful No. 1 seed, and the Knights have yet to lose a game to a WPIAL opponent this season.

Each of Norwin’s three losses this year came against top-notch foes in Spring-Ford, Kennedy Catholic and Wheeling Park, W.Va., by a combined total of seven points. Since a 52-51 defeat against Wheeling Park on Jan. 6, the Knights have won 11 games in a row and allowed fewer than 50 points in all 11 of those contests. They own the No. 1 scoring defense in Class 6A by far, allowing an average of 36.4 points per game — not to mention the No. 2 scoring offense in the class at 54.7 ppg.

On the other hand, North Allegheny is still North Allegheny.

“You never want to go against North Allegheny, because they’re very well coached, they’re very well disciplined and they play their tails off,” said Norwin coach Brian Brozeski. “It’s going to be a high-intensity game. It’s going to be a very educated game. Coach Spencer [Stefko] does a phenomenal job. Not just him, but his coaching staff, as well. They’re going to be well prepared. They’re going to have wrinkles for us.

“They’re used to the environment. They’ve been there multiple times before, so we’ve got to be comfortable there, as well, and just go out there, battle and compete, and see what happens.”

Bailey Snowberger and Norwin will attempt to dethrone rival North Allegheny in the WPIAL Class 6A championship game on Friday. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

The Tigers (22-2) received a No. 3 seed for the WPIAL tournament, but they are rounding into form at the right time after an impressive 43-30 semifinal win against No. 2 Peters Township on Monday. North Allegheny always seems to play its best basketball in late February and March under coach Spencer Stefko, who has the Tigers back in the WPIAL finals for the eighth time in his nine seasons as coach. North Allegheny has won five of the previous seven titles in the largest classification, while Norwin won back-to-back titles in its previous two finals appearances in 2015-16.

“As silly as it sounds, it doesn’t feel like a dynasty,” Stefko said. “It’s unique every year.”

Coming off a 22-point outing in a 63-47 semifinal win against Chartiers Valley on Monday, junior guard Kendall Berger is the driving force behind the Knights’ offensive attack, and the rest of the team feeds off her presence and the opportunities she creates. Although she averages only 10.7 points per game, Berger impacts the game in so many ways, also averaging 4.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 steals per game, typically deferring to her teammates early on before taking games over in crunch time.

“Kendall is a person who loves the moment, so the moment is never too big for her,” Brozeski said. “And you need someone like that. Someone who when the going gets tough, they want the ball in their hands and they want to take control of it.”

Along with Berger, 6-2 senior forward Lauren Palangio is one of the top players in the area, averaging a team-leading 14.2 points along with 8.7 rebounds per game, 2 assists per game and 1.6 blocks per game. Together, they provide arguably the top frontcourt-backcourt tandem in the WPIAL, making Norwin an extremely difficult team to defend.

Norwin’s Lauren Palangio (33) uses her length to her advantage as the Knights’ leading scorer with an average of 14.2 points per game. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Another key contributor on both ends of the floor, senior forward Ava Kobus is averaging 9.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg for the Knights, and senior point guard Bailey Snowberger leads the team with an average of 3.8 apg. Sophomore guard Ava Christopher rounds out the starting five, and Avery Brozeski, Bella Furno and Lexi Hellar provide solid depth off the bench.

Although the Tigers lack a true star player like Jasmine Timmerson, Lizzy Groetsch and Rachel Martindale from their previous championship teams, they have a trio of solid senior guards to lean on in Lydia Betz, Kellie McConnell and Caroline Henderson. Betz tallied 21 points in the WPIAL semifinal win over Peters Township and is the best pure scorer of the three, while Henderson is one of the top 3-point shooters in the WPIAL. McConnell, meanwhile, is an excellent ballhandler who brings the scrappy toughness you would expect from anyone in her acclaimed basketball family.

North Allegheny might have the guards to match up with Norwin, but it remains to be seen if the Tigers can contain Palangio in the post. That task will likely be up to 6-foot sophomore Cate Pingpank, although Stefko will surely have a few tricks up his sleeve to try to turn the tide against the Knights after losing both matchups earlier this season.

“We certainly don’t run from a rivalry game,” Stefko said. “At this point in the year, you’ve got to beat the best teams left. And if they’re the best team left, that’s the task.”

North Allegheny’s Kellie McConnell is one of three talented guards who will try to help the Tigers win their second consecutive WPIAL Class 6A title. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Class 3A championship

All year long, defending champion Avonworth and Shady Side Academy have seemingly been on a collision course toward a Class 3A championship clash, and now the long-awaited rematch of last year’s WPIAL semifinals has arrived.

The Antelopes upended the top-seeded Bulldogs in last year’s semifinals, 41-35, on their way to defeating Laurel for their seventh WPIAL title, and this time around, Avonworth is the No. 1 seed with the target on its back. Seeking their eighth WPIAL title in school history, the Antelopes (22-1) have dealt with the pressure of being the team to beat without any issue all season, compiling a 16-game winning streak while getting better and better as the season goes on. Meanwhile, No. 2 Shady Side (23-2) carries a 17-game win streak into Friday’s championship game at 3 p.m., making for a mouth-watering matchup to kick off a four-game slate on the second day of the WPIAL championships.

“If you say, on paper, who do you want in a championship? A lot of people would say the No. 1 and the No. 2, and here we are,” said Bulldogs coach Jonna Burke. “I always think that this is a really exciting time of year, and it’s really fun if you get to make it this far. We’re happy, we’re enjoying the moment and trying to do our best to come up with a game plan.”

Avonworth’s Greta O’Brien celebrates a 3-pointer during a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal win against Neshannock, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024, at North Allegheny Senior High School in McCandless. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

It’s no surprise Avonworth is back in the finals with the combo of senior forward Rebecca Goetz and junior guard Greta O’Brien back in the fold. Goetz leads the team with an average of 15.8 ppg, and O’Brien is right behind her at 15.1 ppg, providing a reliable scoring tandem that few teams in the WPIAL can keep up with.

Senior guard Eden Schleiss, junior guard-forward Emma Obersteiner and junior forward Sydney Savatt are just a few members of the Antelopes’ supporting cast who have played a big role this season, and any one of them could be a candidate to step into the spotlight with a big game on Friday.

“We’ve had seven or eight kids this year score in double digits,” said Avonworth coach Nick Dizon. “Realistically, it could be anybody, and I think that’s what makes our team dangerous.”

Dizon helped guide the Antelopes to a 72-51 WPIAL semifinal win against Neshannock and legendary coach Luann Grybowski on Saturday, taking down a coach with more than 700 career victories. Next up, he’ll try to defeat another coach with more than 500 career wins in Burke, who is making her fifth championship appearance and trying to guide Shady Side to its first WPIAL title after going 1-3 in four previous trips to the title game at Bethel Park.

“Personally, I love a challenge,” Dizon said. “Getting the chance to go against people I’ve watched from afar and learned a lot from, it’s exciting for me. But at the end of the day, the kids I have embrace the challenge as well.

“We talk about keeping the challenger mentality, even though we are the No. 1 seed. They view each game as a challenge, and from a coaching perspective, I do the same thing.”

If any team in Class 3A has a duo to match the production of Goetz and O’Brien, it’s the Bulldogs. Sophomore guards Karis Thomas and Maggie Spell picked up right where they left off after their breakout freshman seasons, and both have taken their games to a new level while handling the bulk of the scoring for Shady Side. Spell leads the team with an average of 19.7 ppg, while Thomas averages 16.4 ppg.

Shady Side Academy’s Karis Thomas is a multi-talented sophomore point guard who averages 16.4 points per game. (Alexandra Wimley/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

But if you’re looking for the most improved player on the court for the Bulldogs, look no further than 6-1 sophomore forward Cassie Sauer. The daughter of former Stanford basketball legend and 1995 Shady Side grad Pete Sauer, she has taken on an expanded role after rotating with her older sister, Cate, as a freshman on last year’s team. Sauer averages 8.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, and middle sister Charlotte is a senior forward who occasionally rotates in off the bench.

It’s only fitting, of course, that the Sauer sisters get to play for a WPIAL championship inside the arena known as “The Pete.”

“Everybody wants to win a championship,” Burke said. “I feel lucky that I even have one, because I certainly have a lot of coaching friends who haven’t made it to that part. Because it’s so hard, and you have to have the right kids. So much has to fall into place for it to happen.

“I want it for the girls. I want it for Shady Side, because it would be their first ever here. … I want it for the school and for the kids. It would be really special for them.”

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.