North Allegheny had to come up with a defensive scheme to stop Penn Hills senior and Temple recruit Desiree Oliver, who averaged 19 points per game in the regular season. A brainstorming session yielded a simple idea.
“Basically, just to get under Desi’s skin,” said sophomore guard Brynn Serbin, who was Oliver’s primary defender.
That idea came to life Saturday as the Tigers pesky defense helped North Allegheny to a 50-38 victory against Penn Hills in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs at Baldwin.
North Allegheny (27-1) will face Souderton Tuesday with a trip to the final on the line.
Oliver scored a game-high 17 points, but she was hounded throughout. Serbin and junior Piper Morningstar handled the one-on-one duties, but the rest of the supporting cast was there to collapse on driving lanes and make every possession a difficult one.
“She’s a great player and really hard to contain,” Serbin said. “The traps were basically the game plan to keep her in front. I think we got in her head with the traps. We had great help defense behind us, so that’s what made it possible.”
Penn Hills (23-4) likes to run and Oliver did her best work when she pushed the pace and attacked the basket. Most of the game, however, was played at more of a grinding pace and in half-court sets.
“We definitely wanted to play a lot faster than that,” Penn Hills coach Robert Cash said. “We wanted to go up and down, because that’s the best tempo for us.”
North Allegheny likes to push the ball as well, but decided the best approach was to focus on defense and slow the pace.
“I think we’d like [the pace] a little higher, but I’d like a million dollars, too,” North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said. “In the playoffs, you’re playing a good team like Penn Hills.”
Rachel Martindale scored 15 points to lead North Allegheny, followed by Hailey Zeise with 12 and Madelyn Fischer with 10.
Oliver came on strong at the end, scoring 13 of the Indians’ final 16 points. But North Allegheny was much more balanced, utilizing six different scorers in the fourth quarter while swinging passes and executing the offense until finding an open shot or drawing a foul.
The Tigers connected on seven 3-pointers. Zeise made one of those near the end of the first quarter to give North Allegheny a 10-9 advantage. The Tigers held onto that lead the rest of the way.
A driving score by Oliver made it 33-30 near the end of the third quarter, but that was as close as Penn Hills would get.
The Tigers scored the next seven points and outscored Penn Hills, 15-8, in the fourth to seal the win.
Penn Hills’ season started and ended with a loss to the Tigers. North Allegheny won the season-opener, 67-38, Dec. 9 in the Tigers tipoff event.