USC girls upend Hempfield, 53-48

Published Feb 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm (Updated Feb 15, 2013 at 10:10 pm)

The magic continued for the Upper St. Clair girls’ basketball. With a lackluster 11-11 record, the Lady Panthers naturally entered the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs as underdogs. Yet, they trumped the competition.

Their 53-48 stunner against Hempfield (19-3) in a playoff opener on Feb. 15 at North Allegheny was reminiscent of last season. In 2012, USC upended Gateway, 55-53, and advanced to the WPIAL finals as well as the second round of the quarterfinals. Last year’s club finished 15-13 overall. With the win over the Spartans, the 2013 club improved to 12-11.

“When the WPIAL came out with its match-ups for the first round and we knew we’d stay away from our section, right there, we knew we could stay with a lot of teams,” explained Ernie Koontz. “Our record doesn’t show it but we’ve played a very tough exhibition schedule. We challenged our girls and that enabled them to push it to the next level.”

After a sloppy first half, USC, which faced playoff teams such as Mt. Lebanon, Bethel Park, Chartiers Valley and Baldwin while posting a 5-7 section slate as well as Obama Academy, Franklin Regional, North Allegheny, indeed, took it to the next level. In fact, they rose to the occasion once they slipped behind, 30-20, in the third quarter.

Though USC jumped ahead, 3-0, on Madison Serio’s three-pointer to start the game, the Panthers would not lead again until Serio drained another long-range shot and a short jumper. With just under four minutes to play, USC edged ahead, 43-41.

Serio finished with 12 points while her sister, Jordan, fired in 13, including two critical free throws that iced the contest with 21.2 seconds to play.

“Madison and Jordan will run through a wall for you,” said Koontz. “They never say die.”

Of the senior Koontz continued, “Jordan is a tremendous leader. She gets us moving. She captains the team the right way. She is my voice on the floor.”

Rachel Mazzie was the Panthers’ inspiration. The sophomore forward came off the bench and supplied a team-high 14 points, all but two in the second-half uprising. Her bucket with 45.1 seconds to play afforded USC a four-point cushion, 50-46, with 45.1 to play.

“Mazzie, off the bench,” said Koontz, “provided us with big shots. She’s not realized her potential yet.”

Neither have sophomore Diandra Conwell and freshman Emma Hasco. Both have been pushed into service due to injuries and illness. With 25 players to start the season, USC is down to 16 able bodies because of seven concussions, a bout with mono and a shoulder injury to starter Constance Raftis.

While Hasco provided a presence handling the ball and the Hempfield pressure, Conwell accounted for several key steals on defense as well as seven points on offense. After Madison Serio tied the game, 41-41, with a trey then gave USC the lead on a bucket, Conwell knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to widen the gap over Hempfield, 46-41, with 2:50 to play.

“Emma and Diandra have raw talent and they gave so much out there,” said Koontz. “With Emma, she’s a fantastic soccer player but we are molding her into a basketball player. She probably is our best overall athlete whereas most of our girls are good basketball players. With playing time and experience, we are refining skills.”

While she supplied seven points to the effort, Elayna Kaylor has refined her rebounding skills to the point that USC wins games because of that talent. In fact, Kaylor’s offensive rebound of a missed free throw late in the contest enabled USC to maintain possession of the ball and control of the outcome.

“Offensive rebounding was a key to this game,” concurred Koontz. “Elayna does a fantastic job.”

Natalie Condo also did well in her starting role at center. The 6-0 senior also kept things under control inside the paint when Kaylor became saddled with fouls.

“Give this girls a lot of credit. They’ve overcome a lot of adversity and they play very hard.”

For the Spartans the loss was hard because it was the second time USC had ended their season. Hempfield lost to USC, 44-42, in last year’s quarterfinals of the WPIAL tournament.

Monica Burns led the Spartans with 17 points. Her 3-pointer with 1:47 to play tied the game, 46-46.

Also in double figures for Hempfield was Leah Knizner. She finished with 10 tallies.

USC will now play Chartiers Valley (17-6) in a quarterfinal contest set for Feb. 22 at a site to be determined. The Lady Colts survived Shaler, 31-29, in their first-round playoff game played at North Hills.

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