Belle Vernon girls defeat Mt. Pleasant in section opener

Thursday, December 16, 2021 | 10:35 PM

It didn’t decide the game, but it didn’t help Mt. Pleasant’s chances of winning it, either.

The Vikings had just cut a 14-point deficit to eight with about five minutes remaining Thursday night at Belle Vernon when standout junior forward Tiffany Zelmore was whistled for two quick fouls.

The second, a charge, was her fifth and disqualified her from of the Section 3-4A opener.

Belle Vernon quickly regained momentum when Zelmore fouled out, swelling the lead to 16 over the next couple of minutes before finishing off the Vikings, 54-44, without having a double-digit scorer.

The 5-foot-10 Zelmore finished with a game-high 22 points and was looking for more when she fouled out. She had 32 points in a recent win over Ligonier Valley.

Zelmore had three, 30-plus scoring games last season.

The rest of Mt. Pleasant’s team combined for 22 Thursday.

Belle Vernon (3-1, 1-0) led from the start and never loosened its grip after halftime, using a deep bench and balanced scoring to push back Zelmore and her teammates.

“We grinded it out, that’s for sure,” Leopards coach Kaitlyn Slagus said. “There is definitely room for improvement, but we’ll take the win. It was huge to get (Zelmore) out of there. We don’t have their size, and when she left, our guards knew there wasn’t a shot-blocker around the basket.”

Junior Jenna Dawson and sophomore Kenzi Seliga tied for the team high with nine points, junior Farrah Reader added eight and junior Viva Kreis and sophomore Tessa Rodriguez had seven each.

Rodriguez added 11 assists and 10 rebounds for the Leopards, who built a 30-22 lead by halftime and took a 44-31 lead to the fourth.

Kreis and Rodriguez combined for seven steals.

Mt. Pleasant (1-2, 0-1) made 11 of 21 free throws, but started 1 for 10 from the line. They connected on 7 of 8 in the fourth but could not catch the Leopards.

Senior Allison Bailey added nine points for the Vikings.

Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi said it would have been a risk taking Zelmore out when she picked up her fourth foul. But the fifth happened so quickly, on the next time down the floor, he didn’t have much time to ponder it.

“She’s our primary scorer,” Giacobbi said. “It was a tough call to make. I guess we could have cooled her for a minute. It was bang, bang.”

Belle Vernon took its first double-figure lead in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by senior Kaci Bitonti. Bailey followed with a 3 of her own to get Mt. Pleasant within 29-22.

Dawson, who has looked solid since returning from a torn ACL in her left knee that required offseason surgery, scored to open the second half to put the Leopards in front, 32-22. She left the game with 6 minutes, 9 seconds left when she turned her ankle on the opposite leg.

Slagus said Dawson should be all right moving forward.

Mt. Pleasant only could get within eight the rest of the way, despite chipping away as the Leopards tried to use up clock.

Kreis scored on a break off a steal by senior Tara Callaway to make it 44-31 heading to the fourth.

Senior forward Kennedi Rogers scored inside, but that’s when Zelmore picked up her fourth foul. Only seconds later, she was called for the charge.

Junior Presleigh Colditz made a 3 for Belle Vernon and then converted two free throws. Suddenly was 53-38 with 3:44 to play.

“Tessa and Viva were relentless on the ball and really played their hearts out,” Slagus said. “We did a pretty good job defensively, but we still have some things that need to improve.”

Mt. Pleasant had just one field goal in the final five minutes.

Belle Vernon had success getting to the rim while rotating fresh players onto the floor.

“Their penetration hurt us,” Giacobbi said. “Their guard play was really good, and they did a great job on the offensive glass. We still hung in there until the end.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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