Belle Vernon boys shake off slow start, Derry in 1st-round victory

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 | 10:57 PM

It took No. 6 Belle Vernon a little while to shake No. 11 Derry in the opening round of the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

That’s because hot-shooting Aidan Bushey kept Derry close throughout the first half.

But a great end to the first half and a good start of the second half was all Belle Vernon needed to take command.

The Leopards (17-6) used a 14-0 run during that span and rolled to a 65-44 victory against Derry (7-15) on Wednesday at Fox Chapel.

Belle Vernon moved on to the quarterfinals Saturday, where it will face Quaker Valley at 2:30 p.m. at Plum. It is the second consecutive season that Derry has lost in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Leopards tightened up their defense, especially on Bushey, and dominated the boards, getting second and third attempts.

Devin Whitlock paced Belle Vernon with a team-high 21 points, 16 in the first half when the Leopards opened up a 31-21 lead at halftime.

Mitchell Pohlot got hot in the second half, scoring 11 of his 15 points.

“We controlled the boards, which was a big plus, but our defense put a lot of pressure on them and they turned the ball over quite a few times,” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said. “We got a lot of transition points.”

Bushey’s shooting, Whitlock picking up two quick fouls and Cam Nusser injuring his left ankle helped Derry stay close.

Nusser, who needs one 3-pointer to become Belle Vernon’s all-time leader, injured his ankle in the first quarter going after a rebound.

With Whitlock on the bench for the second half of the opening quarter after picking up two fouls, and Bushey, who finished with a game-high 22 points, scoring 14 in the first half, Derry kept it close.

They trailed 24-21 in the second quarter when Belle Vernon went on a 7-0 run to open a 31-21 lead. The Leopards used a 7-0 run to open the third quarter, and the lead quickly grew to 38-21.

“Belle Vernon is very good, and Whitlock is probably one of the best point guard we’ve seen all season,” Derry coach Tom Esposito said. “The run killed us because we didn’t shoot the ball very well all night. During that run we needed a couple buckets to stay in it.

“At halftime, I was still comfortable down 10. They came out in the third and extended their run. It put the game away in the third quarter.”

Derry only made 17 of 55 shots, 5 for 21 from beyond the arc. Belle Vernon wasn’t much better: 27 for 70 including 4 for 17 from beyond the arc.

But Belle Vernon’s inside players — Pohlot, Jared Hartman, Thomas Hepple and Hunter Ruokonen — were too much for Derry to handle. The Leopards had 19 offensive rebounds with Hepple leading the way with seven.

Hartman finished with 11 total rebounds, Pohlot eight and Hepple 10.

Sam Jones had 15 rebounds for Derry.

“Their aggressiveness and athleticism was the difference,” Esposito said. “They simply got after it. They had good looks from two feet, and they got out in transition. It’s been our Achilles heel all year, our transition defense.”

Salvino said the loss of Nusser hurt the offense, and he said someone else had to rise to the occasion.

“Someone else had to pick up the slack,” Salvino said. “I thought the guys coming off the bench did well. Jake (Haney) and Daniel (Gordon) did a good job, they were just hesitant to shoot the ball and they’re good shooters. I felt we did a better job denying Bushey in the second half.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this game on Trib HSSN.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .

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