With 10 minutes remaining in the WPIAL Class AAAA girls championship, a Penn-Trafford win appeared to be a lost cause.
But to its coach, the team that looked to be finished was anything but.
Penn-Trafford 56, Hempfield 45
Penn-Trafford defeats Hempfield 56-45 for the WPIAL girls AAAA title. (Video by Andrew Rush; 3/1/14)
"I said we were going to come back and win the game," Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas said. "I could sense it; I think the bench sensed it even though we were down 10. We felt good about the way we were playing."
By the time the final buzzer sounded Saturday night at Palumbo Center, those words proved prophetic.
Trailing by 15 points late in the third quarter, the Warriors ended the game on a 31-5 run, capping one of the more remarkable comebacks in WPIAL girls championship history with a 56-45 victory against Hempfield.
Senior guard/forward Maria Palarino scored a game-high 21 points in helping to lead the program to its first WPIAL title.
"We just really wanted it and our heart and soul was in the game," Palarino said. "We did everything we could to come back."
A strong defensive team, the Warriors (20-6) relied on their calling card in the game's biggest moments, holding Hempfield without a field goal for the fourth quarter. In that stretch, Penn-Trafford scored 25 of the game's final 31 points to help seal the comeback and, ultimately, the win.
Entering the game as winners of 15 of their past 17, the Warriors got off to a less-than-ideal start, going scoreless for the first 4:04 and missing eight of their first nine shots, two factors that contributed to an early 13-2 deficit.
Led by some opportune 3-point shooting from senior guard Monica Burns, who tied a Class AAAA championship record with five made 3s, the Spartans (17-9) pushed their lead to 40-25 late in the third quarter and were ahead by 10 heading into the fourth.
But facing an unenviable and somewhat dire situation, Penn-Trafford responded.
A 3-pointer from forward Emma Mull with 4:40 remaining tied the score for the first time since it was 0-0 and a minute later, Palarino made a layup in transition to give Penn-Trafford its first lead at 45-43.
Hempfield continued to struggle from the field, missing all 11 of its fourth-quarter shots as the Warriors made 16 of their 21 free-throw attempts to clinch the championship.
"We had a look on our face of panic and I kept telling them 'We're fine, we're fine,' " Hempfield coach Aaron Epps said. "We played three great quarters, but it's kind of been the story of our year.
"Not in the playoffs, because we finished games there. But all year long, we had trouble finishing games. We lost six or seven games like this where we just didn't finish."
Burns had a team-high 19 points for Hempfield, which will play City League champion Obama Academy Friday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
A WPIAL champion for the first time, Penn-Trafford will face North Allegheny, which lost to Hempfield in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
"It's amazing, not only for our team and our program, but for the whole community and everyone that came out to support us," Palarino said.
"It's just an incredible feeling."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG. First Published March 1, 2014 11:07 PM