Spartans finish strong vs. Foxes

Defense triggers

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At the start of the second half of the second-round PIAA Class AAAA girls basketball game between WPIAL runner-up Hempfield and Fox Chapel at Gateway, the Spartans held a two-point lead.

That changed quickly when Hempfield's defense forced nine Fox Chapel turnovers to triggers a run of 12 consecutive points as the Spartans earned a 54-44 victory against the Foxes.

The win improved Hempfield's record to 19-9 going into the PIAA quarterfinals. Fox Chapel finished 20-6.

The Spartans will meet a familiar foe, North Allegheny, in the quarterfinals Friday at a time and site to be determined.

This will be the third time the Spartans and the Tigers have played this season. North Allegheny won the regular-season game, 61-50, and the Spartans earned a 60-44 victory in the WPIAL semifinals.

"I told our girls at halftime that we have to come out and put them away early in the third quarter," said Hempfield coach Aaron Epps. "That's where we won the game. Our ball-pressure was excellent."

Monica Burns, the Spartans' standout guard, led all scorers with 26 points. Leah Knizner added 10.

"I was really proud of the way we came out in the third quarter," Burns said. "I didn't want this to be the end of my [high school] career if we didn't win today. [The team] wanted to keep it going and play with me and for me.

"We deserve to be in the quarterfinals," she added.

Fox Chapel standout and Duke recruit Erin Mathias scored 18 points and cleared 12 rebounds in her finale with the Foxes.

"You have to play 32 minutes, and that's something we've been preaching all season," Fox Chapel coach Meghan Meabon said. "We needed 32 minutes [Tuesday night], and we got into too big of a hole to dig out of.

"That's probably the most all-around athletic team we've seen all season. They played 32 minutes and they have that fighter attitude in them. Their [best] chance was to harass our guards, and they did."

Epps said it took him about five days to recover from the Spartans' 56-45 loss against Penn-Trafford in the WPIAL championship game.

Burns's sentiments echoed the ones of her coach.

"It took me just about as long," she said. "It was a devastating loss, and I know how hard we work when the game's on the line.

"We had a lot of motivation to make a run in the state playoffs."

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