Cold spell snaps USC’s winning streak; fall to Seneca Valley

Published Feb 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm (Updated Feb 24, 2013 at 5:36 pm)

When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not. Just ask the members of the Upper St. Clair boys’ basketball team.

One week after burning Norwin with 13, 3-point field goals for a thrilling, 57-56, victory, the Panthers went cold and were eliminated from the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs when they dropped a 44-34 decision to Seneca Valley in a quarterfinal contest at North Allegheny.

“We went from one end of the spectrum to the other,” explained USC head coach Danny Holzer.

How bad did things go for the Panthers?

They missed their first 14 shots, committed seven turnovers and were shutout in the first frame, 6-0.

“We shot as bad as a team could shoot,” Holzer said. “It was a tough time to do it. Defeats are tough and you feel bad to lose but it just wasn’t our night.

“But,” Holzer continued. “That’s what makes the game of basketball so great. You see it all the time. You just never know how things are going to turn out.”

With 2:35 remaining in the game, nobody knew if USC still had a little magic left in its record-setting season. The Panthers had won their first section title since 2005 and they won a school record 17 straight games during their 20-4 campaign. Their last lost had come in similar fashion back on Dec. 18 to rival Bethel Park, 38-17.

But, after Nick Staley converted a pair of free throws to pull USC within two points, 32-30, Seneca Valley went on a 12-4 run to salt away the victory and advance to the Final Four. The Indians converted on seven of eight free throws down the stretch.

“After all that had gone on and when we closed to 32-30, we were still alive,” said Holzer. “I thought we were going to win the game. I thought we’d find a way and that the magic would continue.”

USC’s enchanted season did not because of the poor start and because the Indians proved too tall an order. While the Panthers’ tallest starter stood 6-4 in the form of John Duffy, Seneca Valley fielded a line-up that boasted 6-5 guard Easton Bazzoli, 6-3 forward Ryan McCauley, a California University of Pennsylvania football recruit, and 6-7 center Alex Snyder.

McCauley led the Indians’ attack. The senior fired in 13 points, all but four on free throws. Bazzoli provided 10 tallies.

“Their size really bothered us,” said Holzer. “They were just too tall and big.”

But, the Panthers had the big hearts. Despite their embarrassing start, which saw them finally score 3:15 in the second stanza on a 3-point play by Jordan Grabowski, the Panthers did not quit.

USC battled back and closed to 17-10 by halftime. The Panthers trailed, 27-18, after three quarters.

Joel Klein and Grabowski ignited USC in the final frame. Klein buried his only points of the game on a 3-point field goal midway through the quarter as USC closed to 32-25. Grabowski connected on two long-range shots and he picked up two more of his game-high 16 points at the free throw line.

Connor Gallagher kept USC in the contest when he registered two long-range shots and a pair of free throws in the middle quarters to finish with eight points.

While Seneca Valley advanced to face undefeated New Castle (24-0) in the semifinals set for 7 p.m. tonight (Feb. 27) at Ambridge, the Panthers had to root for the Indians if their season were to continue. Five WPIAL Quad-A clubs qualify for the PIAA state tournament and the final team is determined by who wins the district title.

Hence, seniors Pete Couglin, Gian-Karlo Molina, Patrick Jonnet, Klein, Gradbowski and Duffy likely played their last basketball game for the Panthers.

“I am so proud of those guys and I am so proud of my team and the season we had,” said Holzer. “I’m proud of the way they played even though we did not go farther, it was a great year and there have been so many memories.

“For me, when it’s over, it’s a time to reflect and think of all the good memories and to look forward.”

While USC loses its leading scorer as well as playmaker in Grabowski, the team will welcome back double-digit scorer J.J. Conn and Gallagher to the starting line-up as well as Will Ross, Thomas Steve, Staley and his brother, Zack.

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