Burrell boys basketball beats SSA to forge tie for 1st in section
One primary thought ran through Jake Okapol’s mind as he maneuvered around teammate Donovan Russell’s pick in the final minute Friday.
“Win the game,” he recalled later.
And so he did.
Okapol sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 25.8 seconds remaining, giving Burrell the lead for good in a 39-35 win over visiting Shady Side Academy in a battle for first place in Section 3-3A.
“It’s a great team win, great to get to top of the section,” said Okapol, who finished with 13 points. “My big man set a good screen. I got the open shot, and I just had to knock it down and get the win.”
Burrell (9-11, 6-3) rallied from an eight-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to move into a first-place tie with Shady Side Academy (11-8, 6-3) with one game remaining.
The Bucs swept the season series from the Indians, beating them in overtime Monday. They bounced back from an overtime loss to Steel Valley on Tuesday.
“To come out here and beat Shady Side two times in one week, it’s insane,” said Russell, who scored a game-high 15 points and pulled down 13 rebounds. “Especially after we lost the section at their place last year. It feels good to get it on senior night.”
The situation didn’t look promising entering the fourth quarter. Shady Side Academy outscored Burrell, 9-4, in the third to take a 30-22 lead going into the final eight minutes. The Bucs made just seven field goals in the opening three quarters.
But Burrell turned up its defense in the fourth, moving to full-court pressure. Russell scored the first eight points of the quarter, including a steal and breakaway dunk to make it 30-26, and tied the score with a pair of free throws with 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining.
“Honestly, you just look at the score, and it kind of lit a fire under us,” Russell said. “This is the last quarter for us to possibly win section. We kind of just looked at that and got our energy back.
“It was my first high school dunk. Came at a pretty good time.”
Frankie Fuhrer IV hit a pair of free throws to give Shady Side a 32-30 lead, but Burrell answered with a driving score by Logan Bitar with 1:06 remaining. Fuhrer drew Bitar’s fifth foul on the next possession and hit both free throws to make it 34-32 with 44.3 seconds on the clock.
With top scorer Bitar out, Okapol used Russell’s screen and hit the go-ahead 3, his third of the game. He added a pair of free throws after a Shady Side miss on the ensuing possession.
Skyy Moore made a free throw for SSA to make it 37-35 with 3.3 seconds remaining. Moore then intentionally missed the second, hoping for a chance to tie the score, but Russell gathered the rebound and sank a pair of free throws to end the game.
“I give a lot of credit to the entire team, but in the fourth quarter, two of our seniors (came through),” Burrell coach Shawn Bennis said. “It fits: On senior night, seniors step up.”
The Burrell defense stepped up, too, holding Shady Side without a field goal in the final quarter.
“We’ve got to make shots in the end,” Shady Side Academy coach David Vadnais said. “We were getting good looks. (You have to) shoot them with confidence, believe in yourself and finish games.”
Fuhrer IV led Shady Side Academy with 13 points, hitting 3 3-pointers. His third 3, midway through the third quarter, gave the Indians a 28-20 lead and was their final field goal of the night.
Burrell can clinch at least a share of the section title with a win at Apollo-Ridge on Tuesday. Shady Side Academy travels to Steel Valley.
“We haven’t had (a section title) in seven years,” Okapol said. “We’ve got to come with the same intensity we did here. Same intensity. No one’s going to beat us if we play like we did now.”