Hempfield Upends Upper St. Clair In First Round Upset
For the last two years, the Hempfield Spartans have been stonewalled in the playoffs with losses to the Upper St. Clair Panthers, including an upset defeat in the first round a year ago. On Tuesday night in the WPIAL first round at Bethel Park, the Spartans finally obtained revenge against their playoff nemesis with a 65-56 win over the fifth-seeded Panthers.
With the Panthers focusing their defensive efforts on stopping IUP-recruit Monica Burns, the floor was left open for Hempfield juniors Leah Knizner and Lexi Irwin. Knizner netted 16 points and Irwin poured in 17, including four three-pointers. Irwin’s pinpoint outside shooting helped the Spartans race to a 35-18 halftime lead in a first half dominated by Hempfield.
“In a playoff game, that was the best half of basketball that I’ve ever been a part of in coaching,” said Hempfield head coach Aaron Epps following the win. “We were just so focused and our girls wanted it so bad.”
Hempfield opened up a 45-25 lead in the third quarter before Upper St. Clair began to play with a greater sense of urgency. Without talented guard Diandra Conwell who missed the game with a leg injury, the Panthers clawed their way back on the strength of senior Constance Raftis who stepped up in Conwell’s absence. Raftis netted a team-high 19 points, scoring 15 in the second half, and pulled USC to within five points of Hempfield with a jumper and two free-throws with two minutes to play, 57-52.
“I wish we would’ve come out with that intensity in the first half,” said Upper St. Clair head coach Ernie Koontz. “Hempfield was just two steps ahead of us you know, going for loose balls, going for loose rebounds. They were just a more aggressive team and they shot really well in the first half.”
In addition to Raftis, juniors Rachel Mazzie and Madison Serio aided the Panthers comeback bid with 15 points each.
Down the stretch, the young Spartans looked as if the playoff jitters might cost them, missing five consecutive free-throws before again finding its groove to put away Upper St. Clair. Senior Monica Burns dropped in a team-high 19 points for Hempfield, scoring 11 points at the charity stripe to help close out a 65-56 win and a trip to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinals, the 15-8 Spartans will face the fourth-seeded Bethel Park Black Hawks on Friday night at Charleroi High School with a 6:15 tip. Upper St. Clair’s season ends with a record of 14-7.
To hear our post-game interview with Hempfield’s Lexi Irwin, click here.
To hear our post-game interview with Hempfield coach Aaron Epps, click here.
To hear our post-game interview with Upper St. Clair head coach Ernie Koontz, click here.
Boys Quad-A All-Section Teams
|Joe Brungo||Kiski Area||6-3||G||Senior|
|Mike Simmons||Kiski Area||6-2||G||Junior|
|Matt D'Amico||Fox Chapel||6-3||G||Senior|
|Brian Papich||Fox Chapel||6-1||G||Senior|
|DeAndre Schifino||Penn Hills||6-3||F||Junior|
|Malik Hooker||New Castle||6-2||G||Senior|
|Anthony Richards||New Castle||5-8||G||Senior|
|David Haus||North Allegheny||6-0||G||Senior|
|Elijah Zeise||North Allegheny||6-3||G/F||Senior|
|Zach Snyder||Seneca Valley||6-6||F||Junior|
|J.J. Conn||Upper St. Clair||6-4||F||Senior|
|Conor Gallagher||Upper St. Clair||5-10||G||Senior|
|Joey Mascaro||Bethel Park||5-9||G||Junior|
|Jonny David||Mt. Lebanon||6-2||G||Junior|
|J.C. Brush||Peters Township||5-10||G||Senior|
–above photo courtesy of Hempfield Athletics