Lady Lions can’t complete upset bid

Altoona senior point guard Jessica Stevens is consoled by North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko after his Lady Tigers ended the Lady Lions’ season. / Photo for the Mirror by Chuck Meyers

GREENSBURG — Altoona’s season in girls basketball is over.

But what a season it was for the Lady Lions, despite finishing with another loss on Tuesday night to North Allegheny, the state’s top-ranked team.

Altoona (21-5) still boasted the program’s best record since 2005.

“Really proud of our team this year, proud of our seniors, Jessica Stevens, Kaley Burke and Shaina Lear,” Altoona coach Miriam Colledge said. “They played their hearts out, as all of them did. It’s a hard way to go out.”

Piper Morningstar scored 21 points, Madelyn Fischer added 17 and Lizzy Groetsch scored all eight of her points on free throws in the fourth quarter, including six in the final minute, as WPIAL playoffs champion North Allegheny held off Altoona, 55-50, in a PIAA Class 6A second-round game at Hempfield High School.

It was the third victory for North Allegheny (27-0) in as many meetings this season with Altoona. The Lady Tigers were ranked No. 1 in the PIAA in the latest poll and No. 15 by USA Today.

“Two elite teams out there battling,” Colledge said. “We just came up short again tonight.”

Groetsch started her flurry of makes from the free-throw line at the 1-minute mark of the fourth and with North Allegheny clinging to a 49-48 lead. The Lady Tigers outscored the Lady Lions, 6-2, down the stretch with all points coming on foul shots.

Olivia Hudson led Altoona with 21 points. Bridgid Fox added 11 for the District 6 playoffs runner-up.

“It was a coin toss,” Colledge said. “North Allegheny played a fantastic game. We wish them the best.

“To me, this was a state championship game. The talent level and the skills level out there today was phenomenal. This was basketball at its best. Our program has really emerged, and we’re right there. We have three returners and three of our top scorers coming back, so we’re excited.”

North Allegheny advances to the quarterfinals on Friday against Bethel Park. The Lady Tigers, who lost to Boyertown in the 2017 PIAA title game, defeated Altoona in their three games this season by an average of 5.6 points.

North Allegheny played its second consecutive game without leading scorer Rachel Martindale, a junior, who sustained a torn ACL in her right knee in the WPIAL championship game against Peters Township.

But the 6-foot-1 Morningstar helped to pick up the slack. Morningstar, the daughter of former Pitt star Darren Morningstar, said playing at an early age has been a big factor in her high school success. She is committed to play at Radford.

“My dad started me off at a very early age. I’ve always been around basketball,” she said. “He’s always at the games for me, and I always get a critique. He was here tonight. I heard him.”

The game was tightly contest from the start. After the teams played to a 19-19 standoff in the first quarter, North Allegheny emerged at halftime with a slim 32-30 lead.

Altoona trailed by just a point, 40-39, heading to the fourth.

But the Lady Lions weren’t able to pull off the upset as Groetsch drilled free throw after free throw to keep the Lady Tigers in control.

“There’s a secret to it,” North Allegheny coach Spencer Stefko said. “At 6 o’clock (Tuesday) morning, I didn’t get to sleep in. I had to open the gym for Lizzy because she shoots a lot of shots, a lot of free throws 3-4 days a week. Not every day, but she puts in the work when nobody is watching, and to watch that be rewarded makes me happy.”

ALTOONA (50): Stevens 0 0-0 0, Hudson 7 5-6 21, Perea 2 0-0 5, Lear 3 0-0 6, Fox 3 5-7 11, Burke 3 0-0 7. Totals — 18 10-13 50.

NORTH ALLEGHENY (55): Serbin 1 0-0 3, Roman 0 0-1 0, Pi. Morningstar 8 1-2 21, Groetsch 0 8-8 8, Fischer 8 1-2 17, Chomos 0 0-0 0, Lane 0 0-0 0, Barcia 2 0-0 6. Totals — 19 10-14 55.


Altoona 19 11 9 11 — 50

North Allegheny 19 13 8 15 — 55

3-point goals: Altoona 4 (Hudson 2, Perea, Burke); North Allegheny 7 (Pi. Morningstar 4, Barcia 2, Serbin).

Records: Altoona (21-5); North Allegheny (27-0).