East Xtra: Penn-Trafford pulls WPIAL surprises

Craig Meyer's high school basketball notebook

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For roughly the past decade, the girls basketball team at Mt. Lebanon has been recognized as one of the best in the area, with three WPIAL Class AAAA championships in the past five seasons echoing that fact.

This season, the Blue Devils were strong yet again, going 15-5 in the regular season and winning their section championship in the process.

But for all that success, Penn-Trafford was able to do something to Mt. Lebanon that has not happened for some time.

With a 32-24 victory last Friday in the WPIAL quarterfinals, the Warriors held the Blue Devils to their lowest single-game point total in the past decade.

The Warriors added to their impressive resume Tuesday, knocking off No. 3 seed Fox Chapel and Duke recruit Erin Mathias, 44-43, to advance to Saturday's title game against Section 1 rival Hempfield Area at the Palumbo Center.

The victory against Mt. Lebanon was a dominant defensive performance by Penn-Trafford, which actually held the Blue Devils to two points and no made field goals in the game's first 16 minutes. Their previous low in that span was 26 points, which came in a loss to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart in 2006.

In many respects, the Warriors defense has been strong all season. They have limited opponents to an average of 40.2 points per game, the second-best mark for a Class AAAA girls team (behind only Fox Chapel), and had five previous games this season in which their opponent had fewer than 30 points.

Junior guard/forward Maria Palarino led Penn-Trafford with 11 points in the victory. For the season, she was averaging a team-high 17.6 points per game going into Tuesday's semifinal game against Fox Chapel.

Eagles capture City League

Though its male counterpart faltered in the City League championship -- and missed out on a chance to continue its perfect season -- the Obama Academy girls basketball team defeated Allderdice, 49-40, last Friday in the City League title game.

The City League championship is the first in program history after the Eagles went 22-19 over the previous two seasons, never making it past the City League semifinals. Senior guard Kayla Payne led all scorers with 16 points in a victorious effort.

With one piece of history behind them, another one looms in the coming weeks in the PIAA playoffs. It will be there that Obama will have a chance to win a PIAA Class AAAA playoff game, something a City League team has not done since Schenley advanced all the way to the quarterfinals in 2008.

A scoring boom

Basketball teams across the WPIAL play a variety of different styles, but for all of those differences there is one constant -- barring overtime, they have only 32 minutes to play. Partially due to that, it's rare to see even the most successful teams post scoring averages similar to college teams that have the luxury of a 35-second shot clock and eight additional minutes of play.

Perhaps that's what makes the boys basketball semifinalists this season that much more remarkable.

Overall, 10 of the 16 WPIAL boys semifinalists averages at least 70 points per game. To put that number into proper context, only five semifinal teams last season averaged that many points per game. Two years ago, that number was at four and in consecutive years (in 2011 and 2010), only one team averaged that mark or better.

Of those 10 teams, only Greensburg Central Catholic comes from the East Xtra coverage area. Before the semifinals, the Centurions were averaging 71.4 points per game. In five of their games this season, they have scored at least 80 points.

Spartans set mark

With a 56-38 victory last Friday against Bethel Park, the Hempfield girls basketball team not only put forth perhaps its best defensive effort of the season -- shutting down the defending WPIAL Class AAAA champions -- but it also made some history.

The win put the Spartans into the WPIAL semifinals, the first time it has advanced that far since 2003.

Hempfield then pulled off the upset of the tournament Tuesday, knocking off No. 1 seed North Allegheny, 60-44, to advance to Saturday's title game.

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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