USC hopes to challenge New Castle
With undefeated New Castle (22-0) grabbing the top seed in the WPIAL’s Quad-A boys’ basketball tournament, the race is on to compete against the Hurricanes. With the second-best record in the league at 19-3, Upper St. Clair hopes to get that opportunity.
“New Castle has to be the favorite,” said USC floor boss Danny Holzer, “but after that, it’s a wide-open field. There’s eight, nine teams. But, I’d love a chance at them.
“I think any team on any given night can be beaten. You never know. You can’t mail it in. New Castle is very athletic. They shoot the ball very well. They certainly are a good team with a great coaching staff. ”
So is USC. At least in Section 4, the Panthers were. They finished atop those division standings with a 13-1 slate after coming from behind and defeating Mt. Lebanon, 49-43, in the section finale. USC has won 16 straight since losing to Bethel Park back in December.
“It’s been a magical run with an absolutely great group of guys,” said Holzer immediately after the triumph, in which USC surmounted a 12-point deficit. “These guys always believed in themselves. They never believed they weren’t going to win.”
Thanks to five, 3-point field goals, Lebo streaked to a 28-16 advantage before USC closed the gap by halftime, 28-23. The Panthers completed a 12-point run to tie the contest on Pete Coughlin’s trey with 6:37 to play in the third quarter. After Jordan Grabowski dished off to John Duffy for a bucket, USC assumed its first lead in the contest, 30-28, with 5:23 left in the third.
USC, which knocked down four triples in the first half, finished with seven buckets from beyond the arc as did the Blue Devils. All three, second-half shots occurred during USC’s third-quarter uprising.
Tyler Roth scored all five of Lebo’s third-quarter points as he pulled the Blue Devils even, 32-32. Roth led all scorers with 17 tallies.
Justin David gave the Blue Devils their last lead, 37-36, before USC went on a seven-point run to vault ahead for good. Will Ross and Grabowski converted free throws while Conn drained an inside bucket. After Roth buried a 3-pointer to pull Lebo to within 43-40 with 1:48 to play, Coughlin scored a lay-up off the Blue Devils’ press. From there, USC sealed the game at the charity stripe. Conn and Joel Klein converted both ends of 1-and-1 situations in the final 20.9.
Conn led USC with 12 tallies. He knocked down a three that gave the Panthers a 30-25 edge. Klein and Grabowski followed with 11 points apiece.
Though Coughlin supplied seven markers, his steals on defense and play on the press sparked USC’s comeback. Coughlin drew the praise of Holzer.
“Pete’s the perfect example of a guy who can change a game without scoring a point,” Holzer said.
In championships, says Holzer, defense always alters the complexion of contests. “Defense is the difference,” Holzer said. “You are always looking to take this or that away from an opponent.”
The way the Panthers play defense—they allow only 46 points per game—pleases Holzer.
“We are playing with a real sense of urgency, especially on defense, and in the playoffs, defense is the bottom line. Our defense ignites our offense. We have to be able to guard people or we are not going to win in the playoffs.”
The Panthers prepared even further for their playoff appearance when they upended Chartiers Valley, 77-68. Again USC overcame an early deficit, falling behind, 22-8, after one frame and 37-32 by halftime.
Grabowski led all scorers with 29 tallies and Conn chipped in 23 markers. Joe Kline finished with 10 points. In the game, USC knocked down 10, 3-point field goals and the defense shone, particularly in the third quarter when it held the Colts to six points.
Big Mac attack
In addition to Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon, Canon-McMillan secured a post-season berth. The Big Macs needed a win against Peters Township to clinch the final playoff spot in Section 4 and they got it with a 62-49 triumph versus the Indians.
Brett Haney fired in 26 points while Seth Petras and Jake Cadez followed with 12 and 11 tallies for the Big Macs, who have qualified for the playoffs for the third time since 2008 under head coach Rick Bell.
Although the Big Macs finished 6-8 in the league, they are 11-11 overall and have overcome their share of adversity from losing their post player to winning three overtime games and surmounting a 20-point deficit on the road to beat Trinity. Also in the Trinity clash, three starters fouled out.
“These kids never quit,” said Bell. “They’ve fought hard. I’m so very proud of them.”
Post-season play for the Big Macs will be much like section action says Bell. “There are no bad teams. You face excellent coaches every night and every night is a tough game. In that regard section has prepared us for the battles ahead in the playoffs.”
Bell predicts, too, New Castle as the team to beat. And, the Hurricanes are beatable if “you catch them at the right time,” he says. To beat New Castle requires solid, fundamental basketball. “Take care of the ball. Get back. Box out. Limit points off of turnovers, transition and stick backs. Make shots,” explained Bell. “You have to play fearlessly and believe you can win.”
Bell believes the Big Macs can make a strong run in the playoffs because they are doing many things well. “We’re playing good defense,” he said of team that allows 53 points per game. “We’re rebounding and understanding and embracing our roles.”
Of late one of those roles is keeping up with the success of other sports’ teams in the school. The wrestlers are coming off a second straight state title. The soccer team captured their first WPIAL title last fall and the softball team also secured a district title.
“It’s a great time to be a Big Mac,” exclaimed Bell. “All of the teams are very supportive of each other. There is an attitude of success in the athletic program.”