Class AAAA girls: Penn-Trafford's Palarino stars in win

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Fox Chapel has the top girls basketball recruit in the WPIAL in Duke signee Erin Mathias.

But no one in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal Tuesday between the Foxes and Penn-Trafford played better than Warriors guard Maria Palarino.

Palarino had 28 points, including the winning free throw with 1:25 remaining in overtime, as No. 7 Penn-Trafford (19-6) advanced to its first WPIAL title game in school history with a 44-43 victory against No. 3 Fox Chapel (19-5) at Penn Hills.

"Maria was fantastic," Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas. "She was the best player on the floor, bar none."

She scored in many different ways -- driving to the basket, stepping out and making three 3-pointers and hitting 7 of 8 free throws. She scored 18 of her team's 24 points in the first half as the Warriors led by two at halftime.

"Their defense was good, but I knew whenever I drove in there were open spots and gaps I could take advantage of," Palarino said.

But she couldn't do it alone, and she got help late in the game from reserve Emma Mull. With Penn-Trafford trailing in the fourth quarter, Mull hit two 3-pointers in a 1:16 span to give the Warriors a 37-35 lead with 2:14 remaining.

Penn-Trafford still led by two, 39-37, when Mathias grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled with 8.3 seconds left. The 6-foot-3 senior made both free throws to send the game into overtime.

Mathias, who finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks, scored all four of the Foxes points in overtime. But with the score tied, 43-43, Palarino hit 1 of 2 free throws to give the Warriors the lead.

Fox Chapel had one last chance after Penn-Trafford's Casey Aunkst missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 6.4 seconds left, but Kayla Slovenec's shot hit off the back of the rim as time expired.

Other semifinal

Hempfield 60, North Allegheny 44: Monica Burns scored a game-high 23 points as 12th-seeded Hempfield (17-8) got its third consecutive playoff win against a top-five seed, routing No. 1 North Allegheny (22-2) at Penn Hills.

Earlier this season, Hempfield let a 13-point second-half lead slip away in a loss to North Allegheny.

"We've been in too many close games from the beginning of the season until now that we knew we weren't going to blow it this time," Burns said. "This is our game; we led from start to finish and we didn't let up at all."

Hempfield never trailed, scoring the first seven points of the game and leading, 30-16, at halftime.

Even when North Allegheny made a run in the second half, cutting a 20-point deficit to 12 in the third quarter, the Spartans had the answer -- Sam Orie converted a 3-point play and Burns hit a long 3-pointer.

"I wouldn't trade her for anyone," Hempfield coach Aaron Epps said of Burns "She's just the ultimate leader. Every team is out to stop her, and she still gets it done."

Meg Morningstar had 12 points to lead North Allegheny, which saw its 21-game winning streak end.

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