Monica Burns dives for a loose ball during the WPIAL Class AAAA girls basketball championship at Pulumbo Center on March 1.
By Nicholas Tolomeo / Tri-State Sports & News Service
For most of her basketball career, a lot of attention has been on Monica Burns.
She has the attention of her opponents when they are on defense and she usually has her teammate's attention. On senior night this year, all the attention was on Burns, the lone member of the Class of 2014.
"It was great for Monica," Hempfield Area coach Aaron Epps said of the scene at the Hempfield gym on senior night. "She got all the attention -- it was great for her. To be honest, she deserved it.
"It was so much deserved from where she has taken this program. The school has gone further than it ever has before and she is a big reason or that."
Burns, a 5-foot-7 guard, is one of the best shooters and ballhandlers in the WPIAL. She has scored more than 1,000 career points and after scoring 26 Tuesday night in a 54-44 second-round victory against Fox Chapel, she is just six points shy of the all-time school scoring record.
The Spartans advance to the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals Friday when they will have a rematch against North Allegheny.
Burns and the Spartans easily rolled on senior night, winning, 75-44, against Greater Latrobe to cement third place in Class AAAA Section 1. With the No. 12 seed in the playoffs, Hempfield strung together a trio of upsets to reach the program's first WPIAL final.
They were a Section 4 wrecking crew, knocking off No. 5 seed Upper St. Clair, 65-56, in the first round and then eliminating defending WPIAL champion, No. 4 seed Bethel Park, 56-38, in the quarterfinals.
Hempfield then surprised top overall seed North Allegheny, 60-44, in the WPIAL semifinals to reach the Palumbo Center for the first time in school history.
The Spartans allowed a 15-point second-half lead against section rival Penn-Trafford get away and fell in the WPIAL final, 56-45.
Hempfield had six days to dwell on that loss before opening the PIAA playoffs on Friday against Obama Academy.
The Spartans came out of the gate on fire, opening the game on an 18-0 run. Obama Academy would string together a 17-4 run of its own to pull within five at 22-17 but there would be no Hempfield collapse this time as the Spartans extended the lead and rolled to a 54-33 win.
To no one's surprise, Burns has been a catalyst to this postseason run. She entered the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs as the team's leading scorer in the regular season, averaging 20.1 points per game. To start the playoffs, Epps made the decision to have Burns start bringing the ball up court.
"Every coach, in order to be good, you have to have good players," Epps said. "And so for me, every time I go out there I believe I have the best player on the floor. Monica is a great leader.
"Offensively she is just very tough to guard, because she can do it all. I think the biggest thing that makes Monica good is a lot of people think her shooting is the best thing she does, but it is her driving ability. Even when her shooting is just OK, she is still dominating games because of her driving ability."
In the WPIAL quarterfinal upset win against Bethel Park, she had a game-high 19 points along with six assists and six rebounds. In the PIAA playoff win against Obama Academy Burns had another game-high with 21 points.
Burns is committed to play at IUP next season.
"She didn't play point guard all year until the playoffs," Epps said. "We have made the adjustment to put the ball in her hands. I trusted her a little bit more. She has delivered.
"It was always a question and that is one of the biggest reasons why I think Monica didn't go Division I, people questioned if she could handle the ball because she was so much of a scorer and in these playoffs, she has proven that she can to everyone."
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