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North Allegheny High School's girls basketball team hadn't won a game in 10 days—and hadn't even played in one in eight—but the Tigers quickly shook off that rust against Baldwin High School in a WPIAL AAAA playoffs first-round win on Tuesday night.
North Allegheny (20-3 overall) won the game's opening tip at neutral-site North Hills High School, got the ball to sophomore forward Meg Morningstar for the first two points and never trailed on its way to a 56-33 pounding of the lower-seeded Highlanders (11-12 overall).
The 6-foot-1 Morningstar, who finished with 11 points, got her own rebound two or three times during that opening possession. It was a sign of things to come, as she gave Baldwin fits all night—rebounding, offensively and defensively.
"That girl is good," Baldwin's Head Coach Gavin Prosser said. "She's pretty athletic. She's very long. And they run their sets so well. That creates a lot of stuff for them."
While Morningstar held down the frontcourt, teammate and junior guard Taylor Brennan was just as impressive in the backcourt with a game-high 17 points. And like her teammates, Brennan was tenacious on defense, frustrating Baldwin and causing turnovers and hurried shots.
"That's our main focus in practice," Brennan said. "We know that, in order to score on offense, you have to have a good defensive team. Offense will come when we work hard on defense."
Said Prosser, "I think their intensity got us in the beginning, and we really didn't recover from that."
The 2012-13 season for the Highlanders, who won their regular-season finale against Bethel Park High School in order to make the playoffs before besting Greater Latrobe High School in a WPIAL play-in game on Friday, is finished.
Meanwhile, the Tigers—the tournament's No. 2 seed—could be playing well into March should they win one more playoffs game. That would guarantee them a spot in the PIAA (state) playoffs, not to mention a good shot at a WPIAL title.
"Obviously, we would love to do that (compete for a WPIAL title)," NA's Head Coach Sherri McConnell said. "This (Baldwin) is the first one. You need this step to get there. There's still a long ways to go. I know there's a lot of teams in our way to get there, and we're just gonna take it one game at a time.
"Hopefully, we continue to prepare and come out with the mindset we came out with tonight because I thought the girls did a nice job from the beginning, mentally."
As bright as the present is for North Allegheny, its future—with just one senior on its roster—isn't too shabby, either.
"We have a very young team," Brennan said, "but this year's been fun. No one's really looking to be the star of the team. Everyone works together. Everyone wants everyone to do well, and I think that's what really helps us."
Prosser, whose Baldwin team is even younger with no seniors on his squad, was asked if, despite Tuesday's season-ending loss, his team actually overachieved this season by making the playoffs out of the AAAA's tough Section 4.
"I probably need some time (to reflect on that)," he said. "I just keep going back to the Bethel Park game because that's what we were trying to get out of them (the Highlanders) all year. And to see it and know that it's 'there,' and then to come here and play like we played tonight, it's just really disappointing."
Junior guard Nikki Corcoran led Baldwin with 10 points.
NA will now play Gateway High School (19-4 overall) in the WPIAL quarterfinals on Friday at a place and exact time to be determined. Gateway defeated Oakland Catholic High School (9-14 overall), 55-40, at Baldwin on Friday.
Score by quarters:1st 2nd 3rd 4th Final Baldwin 2 15 8 8 33 North Allegheny 9 21 14 12 56
North Allegheny's scorers: Brennan (17), Abby Gonzales (14), Morningstar (11), Maddie Nellis (6), Devvin LaBarge (5), Taylor Lake (3)
Baldwin's scorers: Corcoran (10), Taylor Letender (7), Liz Spegar (4), Amanda Johnston (3), Taylor Duchon (3), Kayla Eberst (3), Alex Barr (3)
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