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Threes and ‘D’ lift Upper Dublin past North Allegheny in PIAA-6A 2nd round

CHAMBERSBURG >> Upper Dublin hit six three-pointers Wednesday night against North Allegheny and they were all crucial.

The biggest came in the fourth quarter, when Dayna Balasa hit from the right corner to extend a four-point lead to seven with five minutes left.

From there, Upper Dublin hit enough free throws and played solid defense to close out North Allegheny, 41-32, in the second round of the PIAA Class 6A state playoffs at Chambersburg Area High School.

Balasa missed a three-pointer on the Cardinals previous possession and had one blocked earlier in the fourth quarter.

“Whenever I miss a shot I just know to keep shooting and eventually they’ll fall,” Balasa said.

Balasa’s fourth-quarter triple ended a 7-0 North Allegheny run that trimmed an 11-point Cardinal lead to six. It also started a 7-0 Upper Dublin run, as Jackie Vargas grabbed two big rebounds in the next 90 seconds, got fouled each time and went 4-for-4 from the line.

“That three was a big-time shot,” UD coach Morgan Funsten said. “She had gotten one on the previous possession and at that point they were trapping and it’s really tough for my girls because you’re stalling a little bit, they’re trapping — what’s a good shot and what’s a bad shot? Any shot where Dayna’s open is a good shot. Maybe she missed that first one because she had a little indecisiveness about if she should shoot this or not. She stepped in, shot it with confidence and missed, then the second one she stepped in and that’s her shot right there. That was a huge shot.”

The first five (1-5) Upper Dublin three-pointers were big for momentum.

The first came from Balasa with 1:08 left in the first quarter to give the Cardinals their first lead, 6-5. On their next possession, Sarah Eskew hit from deep to extend the lead to four and complete an 8-0 run to close out the quarter.

“It gets us really hype on the bench,” Balasa said. “Everyone gets into the game and we get so much energy from those.”

In the final 70 seconds of the second quarter, the Cardinals hit two more. Jess Polin drilled the first and Balasa the second, Balasa’s giving Upper Dublin its largest lead of the game, 24-11, going into the half.

“Very rarely can you say you flat out won a game in the first half,” Funsten said. “I really think that’s what we did.”

The other three was a desperation heave from Bliss Brenner as time expired at the end of the third, sending the Cardinals to the fourth with a 30-19 advantage.

Upper Dublin found success holding the ball in the fourth while protecting their lead. The defending state champs started the fourth with the ball and held it for 1:13. Later in the quarter, they held the ball for 57 seconds to drain the clock to 2:14 before getting fouled. Anajae Smith grabbed an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and the

Cardinals held on a little longer before getting fouled again.

“The girls practiced it this week and I guess we had an idea or foreshadowing of what was about to happen to us,” Funsten said. “When they’re running two people at the ball you can’t run an offense. You basically play keepaway and try to stay aggressive. If good shots happen as a result of playing keepaway, then that’s just an added bonus. I thought they played simple and moved to good spots. They were great teammates in handling pressure.”

“It’s really tough,” Balasa added. “At practice we do keepaway and that helps us a lot.”

Upper Dublin’s defense had another patented performance, holding (7-2) North Allegheny to 32 points. The Lions only managed 19 through three quarters before scoring 13 in the fourth.

“We know how good (North Allegheny’s Rachel) Martindale is and (Lizzy) Groetsch is extremely dangerous attacking the basket,” Funsten said. “Between Sarah (Eskew) playing Martindale tough … Sarah did an incredible job on her and Kara Grebe and Bliss Brenner and Anajae Smith did a great job on Groetch, holding her to five. She averages 14 or 15 a game.”

Martindale finished with 13 points — eight of which came in the fourth.

Vargas led the Cardinals with 17 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Balasa joined her in double figures with 11.

The Cardinals will face co-Suburban One League American Conference champion Abington in the quarterfinals Friday at a site and time to be determined.

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