IMPERIAL – South Park sophomore Allison McGrath could not stop smiling as she anxiously waited to hug her father after a memorable playoff performance.
It did not matter to McGrath who the Eagles faced in their WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal matchup. Despite beating Trinity twice this season, McGrath knew a win over the Hillers would not come easily. McGrath had something to say about the Hillers’ bid for a spot in the semifinals.
She scored a game-high 30 points to lead No. 3 South Park, the defending WPIAL champion, to a resounding 67-41 victory at West Allegheny High School.
The Eagles (20-4) advance to the semifinals where they will face No. 2 Elizabeth Forward Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
For McGrath, a 5-10 forward, helping her team to a second-straight semifinal appearance was a necessity. As the Eagles’ leading scorer, she feels pressure to be a catalyst in only her second year of varsity basketball.
The moment she hit a baseline jumper – less than minute into Saturday’s game – she knew it was her day. McGrath made seven three-point shots and complimented her perimeter shooting with a hard-nosed inside game.
“As soon as I hit the first shot, I knew it would be one of those games for me,” McGrath said. “I just kept hitting shot after shot. I guess it was just my day.”
There have been many performances such as Saturday’s for McGrath, who averages a team-high 16.7 points per game. Trinity head coach Bob Miles knew that preventing the Eagles’ perimeter play would be a necessity. He installed a 1-3-1 defense to counter South Park’s outside shooting, most notably, McGrath.
“McGrath is a really, really solid player,” Miles said. “She has given us trouble all season and we knew coming in that we couldn’t let her have this type of game.”
The Hillers (17-6) battled back in the first quarter after a 12-4 run for the Eagles and only trailed by four points after the period. That’s when McGrath’s game reached another level. She had 20 first-half points, including five three pointers. The Eagles hit nine in the first half and outscored Trinity, 24-4, in the second quarter to enter halftime with a 39-15 advantage.
“(McGrath) has really matured this season,” South Park head coach Reggie Wells said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. She keeps getting better and is playing wonderfully at the right time for us.”
With knowledge stemming from two regular-season matchups, Wells knew sophomore center Mary Dunn was critical to the Hillers’ offense. To ensure Dunn would not make South Park pay, Wells instructed his guards to pressure their counterparts. The result was unforced turnovers from Trinity’s guards attempting to pass to Dunn in the lane.
“We wanted to speed their guard play up and make them uncomfortable,” Wells said. “You have to put extra pressure on them or they’ll find Dunn under the basket. When she gets it in the post, its lights out.”
The onslaught of turnovers occurred during the Eagles’ strong second quarter, which created points in transition. The Hillers battled back in the third quarter behind two three-pointers from freshman guard Sierra Kotchman and the rebounding of Dunn. They seemed to be gaining ground when they pulled to within 17 entering the fourth quarter, but the Eagles answered with an 8-0 run to put the Hillers away.
Despite the loss, Trinty’s season is not necessarily over. If South Park reaches the WPIAL title game, the Hillers will clinch a spot in the PIAA playoffs. After discussing the loss in the locker room with his team, Miles explained to them playoff scenarios, next week’s practice schedules and instilled a simple message.
“We told them it’s not over,” Miles said. “There is still a chance for us to do something special this season. Even if we don’t reach our goal, the extra playing experience will pay off for the younger players in years to come.”