Keystone Oaks girls gain edge in Section 3 with win over Belle Vernon

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Friday, January 12, 2018 | 2:28 PM


Keystone Oaks amped up its pressure, clamped down on defense and kept cold-shooting Belle Vernon at bay Thursday to capture a foul-plagued first-place clash 48-35 in the Section 3-4A game of the night.

The No. 4-ranked Golden Eagles (10-3, 6-0) held the host Leopards (8-4, 5-1) to eight field goals and outscored them in the second half, 20-12, to sit alone stop the standings.

Keystone Oaks coach Ron Muszynski said his team doesn’t call many plays; it just relies on its athleticism.

The Golden Eagles rely on a dribble-drive offense, kick-outs and quickness on both ends of the floor — things that led to a 14-0 section record and a section title last year.

“Our girls are so athletic and they get up and down the court,” Muszynski said. “They cause pressure. Their conditioning level is spectacular. It’s a really fun job coaching them. … I don’t even coach them that much; I just scream at them to run up and down the court and they do their thing.”

Belle Vernon had just three field goals in the second half, but stayed within shouting distance thanks to solid free-throw shooting.

The Leopards made 17 of 24 foul shots. More than half of Belle Vernon’s points in the first half came from the foul line.

But missed layups, rim-outs and turnovers gave them fits, especially when they took a late lead.

Taylor Kovatch made a layup off a steal early in the third quarter, but the Leopards didn’t make another field goal until Lindsay Steeber banked in a layup with about nine seconds to go in the game. That meant a near-15-minute spell without a basket.

The offense was lapped by the defense for Belle Vernon.

“I was proud of our defensive effort tonight,” Belle Vernon coach Lisa Fairman said. “We accomplished what we wanted to. We slowed down their transition. I think we stopped them six to eight times and had transition opportunities but couldn’t score.”

Keystone Oaks, healthy for the first time all season, looked primed to pull away early, building an 18-9 lead after the first quarter.

Standout guard Gillian Piccolino scored 11 points, all in the first half, before she faced a stern box-and-1 defense that kept her scoreless after halftime.

But Isa Bodgan and Jaylen Hoffman, who scored 13 apiece for Keystone Oaks, combined for 11 in the fourth.

A 9-0 run put the Eagles back in control and, as Belle Vernon struggled to find offense, they pulled away.

“At times, and I don’t know why, we were so shy to pull the trigger on the perimeter today,” Fairman said. “They had the green light to shoot. I wanted the transition opportunity. But tonight, it didn’t go our way offensively.

“I have five seniors on the court. Someone needs to put the team on their back. When we need a bucket, we need a bucket. It’s that simple. We can’t play in fear. We were a little fearful to shoot.”

Hoffman’s layup gave Keystone Oaks a 41-31 lead before free throws pushed the margin to 14 inside the final minute.

Keystone Oaks now has back-to-back wins over teams it was just tied with atop the section. It defeated Elizabeth Forward, 68-47, on Monday. The Eagles have won four of five.

After falling behind 26-13, Belle Vernon put together a 10-0 run late in the second quarter to take momentum into halftime, trailing just 28-23.

The Leopards led briefly, at 29-28, on two free throws by Caitlyn Trombley, who had a game-high 17 points.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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