Elizabeth Forward girls step closer to Section 3-4A title after defeating No. 5 Southmoreland |
High School Basketball

Elizabeth Forward girls step closer to Section 3-4A title after defeating No. 5 Southmoreland

Bill Beckner Jr.
Southmoreland’s Sarah Pisula exits the court as Elizabeth Forward players celebrate after their 45-44 victory Thursday.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Southmoreland’s Charity Henderson makes a drive to the net in the final minutes while Elizabeth Forward’s Bailie Brinson defends during girls’ WPIAL basketball on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 at Elizabeth Forward High School. Southmoreland lost 44-45.

After senior forward Maggie Moore scored inside for Southmoreland to tie the game with 17 seconds left, Elizabeth Forward coach Krystal Gibbs gathered her players during a timeout to cast a vote of confidence.

Her message: “Just finish the game,” Gibbs said. “I believe in you, now I just need you guys to believe in yourselves — just finish the game.”

Senior Juria Flournoy was fouled soon after, and made 1 of 2 free throws. Then senior guard Julia Jenkins stole the ball near the opposite foul line with 1.5 seconds to preserve a tight, 45-44 victory for the Warriors over the fifth-ranked Scotties on Thursday night.

The victory gives Elizabeth Forward (13-5, 11-1) a one-game lead in Section 3-4A and extends its string of wins to seven, while ending Southmoreland’s 10-game winning streak.

The teams split their season series, playing back-and-forth games each time.

Elizabeth Forward is nearing its first section title since 2015. Southmoreland remains in the hunt for its first since 2007.

“We changed our defense a little bit (in practice) this week,” Gibbs said. “And the girls did a great job on the court.”

The Warriors gave away a seven-point lead in the final 2:44 to the defensive-minded Scotties (16-3, 10-2), who came in allowing a Class 4A-low 33.7 points a game.

“They made one more play than we did at the end,” Southmoreland coach Brian Pritts said. “It was a great playoff atmosphere, and I’m glad our girls got to experience that.”

After an 11-3 run to open the fourth put the Warriors ahead 42-35, Moore converted a three-point play and freshman Gracie Spadaro scored off a steal with 50 seconds left to tie it 42-42.

Freshman Bailie Brinson made two free throws for the Warriors with 37.2 left to make it 44-42, but Moore scored on an in-bounds play to tie it with 17 seconds to go.

Moore, a 6-foot-2 Navy recruit, finished with 15 points, 11 in the second quarter. She battled some foul trouble in the second half and the Warriors tried to take advantage of her absence.

Elizabeth Forward 6-1 senior Brianna Spirnak led all scorers with 16 points, 12 in the first half. She is headed to Pitt to throw the javelin for the track and field team. She helped spear the Scotties’ section-title hopes, at least for now.

“We really worked on our defense, preventing them from getting it into the big girls,” Spirnak said. “I think that’s what won this game for us: denying them inside and getting stops down low.”

Junior Charity Henderson added nine points for Southmoreland, scoring six straight in the third to give the Scotties their largest lead, at 32-27.

Elizabeth Forward led after the first quarter, 12-9, and it was tied 26-26 at halftime.

The Scotties took a 32-31 lead in the fourth.

Flournoy added eight points and Brinson and Jenkins each had seven for the Warriors, who made five 3-pointers in the first half.

The Warriors’ smaller guards challenged Southmoreland’s taller defenders, who presented a forest of arms on most possessions.

Senior Haylee Briggs scored on a tough layup against that size to make it 39-35 with 3:05 left.

“Against other teams, smaller teams, we’re used going in and driving with our bigger girls,” Spirnak said. “This game, we had to focus on rebounds and second shots.”

Freshman Bailey Kuhns added eight points and Spadaro had seven for Southmoreland.

“To be in a battle for the section title from where we were when we started here two years ago tells how far we’ve come,” Pritts said. “It started out wanting to get to .500, then make the playoffs. Now, we want more. I’m proud of our girls.”

The Warriors improved to 7-1 at home this season.

Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.