With temperatures rising the past few days, much of the snow that recently fell on Western Pennsylvania quickly melted. That didn't stop North Allegheny from hitting Hempfield with a giant snowball Saturday at Penn Hills.
What started as an average run by North Allegheny to start to the second half quickly snowballed on Hempfield. Before the Spartans knew it, an avalanche of points helped North Allegheny storm to an 82-59 win in a WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal.
North Allegheny (21-3) advances to the semifinals Wednesday for the second year in a row to face Section 3 rival Hampton (21-3), which defeated the Tigers in the semifinals a year ago. The teams split two regular-season meetings this season.
Sixth-seeded Hempfield (21-3) had some good moments in the first 16 minutes and trailed No. 3 North Allegheny, 36-27, at halftime. That's when North Allegheny took its play to another level, going on a 21-0 run to start the third quarter to take a commanding, 57-27 lead.
North Allegheny's Elijah Zeise sparked the run with his defense, taking two charges in the opening minute. The first pinned a third foul on Hempfield's Tony Pilato, a 6-foot-7 center who then spent most of the quarter on the bench after scoring 11 points in the first half.
"He's really good at that," North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said of Zeise.
"You get some kids who really understand how to get in position and do that. He's been doing it all year."
North Allegheny forced seven turnovers in the run and made plenty of big shots, too. Joe Mancini scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers. Hempfield didn't score its first points of the quarter until there was 3:25 left.
"Our halftime speech was just to keep it going and kick up the intensity. We didn't want to take our foot off the gas pedal," said Mancini, who made five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 22 points.
North Allegheny never trailed and took its largest lead, 66-32, with 1:27 left in the third quarter. The Tigers outscored the Spartans, 30-8, in a period Mancini said "went on forever."
As usual, North Allegheny shot a lot of 3-pointers. The Tigers were 12 of 33 .They made only nine 2-point field goals, but went 28 of 35 from the free-throw line, including 26 of 33 in the second half.
Mike Carter finished with 16 points and Cole Constantino added 15.
Kason Harrell led Hempfield with 21 points and Pilato had 19.
Hempfield coach Mark Marino felt the Spartans needed to handle North Allegheny's press, force them into a poor shooting game, and limit second-chance opportunities.
His team failed in all three areas, and he seemed most disappointed by the Spartans' struggles with North Allegheny's press.
"It's very difficult for players to speed up to beat a press and then understand that in the halfcourt, if you don't have a good shot, you have to pull it out," Marino said.
North Allegheny raced to a nine-point lead in the first quarter before Hempfield cut the deficit to 21-18 early in the second quarter. The Spartans never got any closer.