USC gets payback in Class AAAA quarterfinal
Upper St. Clair senior guard Christy Gabor wouldn’t let it happen again.
In a PIAA Class AAAA girls basketball quarterfinal game Friday night, Gabor was determined to prevent Bethel Park from defeating her team three times in the same season.
It was Gabor’s first trip to the state tournament, but she delivered like a pro. She and junior guard Alex Gensler scored 15 points each to help Upper St. Clair defeat Bethel Park, 48-40, at North Hills High School. Upper St. Clair will advance to the semifinals where the Panthers will face either Cheltenham or Hempfield of District 3 on Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.
“We were more determined than they were and we knew what we had to do to win,” Gabor said. “We just had to play defense and work together.
“Actually I thought that it was going to be a close one. I thought we could do it, but the two losses were a big factor. We were just determined this time.”
Upper St. Clair suffered four- and five-point losses to Section 4-AAAA champion Bethel Park before meeting a third time last night.
Upper St. Clair (25-5), which came off of a 68-61 second-round win against Shaler, took a 14-5 lead at the start of the game. Gensler’s eight first-quarter points gave the Panthers the momentum they needed to jump on Bethel Park (25-5) early.
“Whatever team establishes itself in the first quarter, that is the key to the game,” Upper St. Clair coach Ernie Koontz said. “You have to come out and fight, fight, fight.
“You can’t back off and you see what happens when you let the other team get the first punch.”
Using a 17-point second quarter, Bethel Park cut a 12-point deficit to single digits and entered halftime trailing, 31-22.
“We talked about slowly getting back into the game, playing with a little more emotion, a little more intensity, especially on the defensive end,” Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke said. “We were flat, just flat. I basically reminded them that this is it; this is their last half of basketball if you don’t get after it a little bit harder.”
Bethel Park, who defeated WPIAL champion New Castle in double overtime Tuesday, outscored Upper St. Clair, 14-3, in the third quarter to take a 36-34 lead. The Black Hawks opened the second half on a 10-0 run, but couldn’t maintain the momentum in the final eight minutes.
“We needed to play the way we did in the third quarter the entire game and then maybe it would have been a game the whole time,” Burke said.
It was Upper St. Clair which put together a solid fourth quarter while forcing six Bethel Park turnovers and outscoring the Black Hawks, 14-4. Upper St. Clair opened the fourth quarter with a 6-0 run and Bethel Park was unable to recover.
Bethel Park junior guard Bridget Bielich led the Black Hawks with 12 points and senior guards Samantha Loadman and Katie Kendall scored 10 points apiece.
“I think (Upper St. Clair is) peaking at the right time and us coming out a little flat like we hoped to heck we didn’t, but that combination made it hard to get that comeback and it was too little too late,” Burke said.
After suffering a 17-point loss to New Castle in the WPIAL semifinal, Upper St. Clair finds itself one win from competing in the PIAA title game. With both WPIAL champion New Castle and runner-up Oakland Catholic eliminated from the playoffs, Upper St. Clair is the only WPIAL team still alive in Quad A.
“We’re going to go all the way now that we got this one down,” Gabor said. “It’s our rival. They beat us twice and it was our turn to win. Now that it’s done, I feel like no one should be able to stop us.”