Monessen wakes up to beat Portage
With 1:46 left in the first quarter, Monessen basketball coach Joe Salvino must have thought he was in a nightmare.
His heavily favored Greyhounds were trailing Portage, 14-3, in their PIAA Class A second round playoff game at Hempfield.
Monessen had made just one of its first 14 shots from the field and was getting pounded on the boards by the Mustangs.
Leading scorer Lavalle Rush was on the bench after taking an elbow to the mouth that drew blood.
Second-leading scorer Jaden Altomore was on the bench after committing his second foul less than three minutes into the game.
However, in the second quarter, the nightmare ended and so did Portage’s chances.
Rush returned to the court and scored 17 points in the second period as the Greyhounds outscored the Mustangs 22-6 to take a 34-24 lead en route to a 69-49 win.
“Again, we started out really slow. It seems like every game we start out slow,” Salvino said, “and we can’t afford to do that. We weren’t pressing the ball and our defense wasn’t turning the ball over. The pace was slow the way they wanted it.”
Two key things happened in the second quarter that allowed the Greyhounds (22-6) to go from 11 points down to 10 points ahead.
The first was Rush’s offensive onslaught. The second was Salvino inserting Luke Beveridge into the game to guard Portage’s 6-4 Michael Bryja.
Bryja, a 1,000-point scorer, had been having his way in the first quarter, scoring eight points.
Once the 5-9 Beveridge was put on the Mustangs’ leading scorer, not only did he struggle, but the rest of Portage’s offense went south.
“I thought he turned the game around,” Salvino said of Beveridge. “He’s one of our better defensive players and he made that kid work constantly.”
Bryja scored just seven points the rest of the night, including a meaningless 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter.
Beveridge said he was willing to take the challenge of guarding the taller player.
“I tried to get strong with him. He was a little on the skinny side and I just harassed and annoyed him,” Beveridge said. “I like playing defense. I try to be the pest on the team.”
Once the Greyhounds seized control of the game in the second quarter, they never gave it back.
“We got into the flow of the game, we started to create some turnovers and then we took control of the game,” Salvino said.
In the third quarter, Altomore got hot, scoring eight points as Monessen got the lead up to 52-33.
The lead ballooned to 56-33 in the first minute of the of the fourth quarter and Portage (20-7) was too tired to mount any comeback.
After the scoreless first quarter, Rush finished with 27 points to lead Monessen. Altomore, who was scoreless in the first half, finished with 15 points, as did teammate Justice Rice.
Braedon St. Clair led Portage with 19 points, while Bryja ended with 15.
The Greyhounds move on to a quarterfinal game against District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic (23-4), which defeated Cameron County, 53-29. The game will be played Friday at a site to be determined.
PLAYOFF TIDBITS: Monessen lost one of its top reserves, junior Dwight Moore, who sprained an ankle in warmups before the game … After making four of 18 shots in the first quarter, the Greyhounds hit nine of 22 in the second period … Monessen got outrebounded 25-12 in the first half … Rice and Altomore had three 3-pointers each.
Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or firstname.lastname@example.org.