Belle Vernon girls get defensive during key section win vs. Mt. Pleasant

Thursday, January 21, 2021 | 10:28 PM

The game started an hour earlier than usual, but Belle Vernon’s defenders looked like they would have been ready to go any time of the day.

A harassing pressure defense allowed the Leopards to build a double-digit lead by halftime, and the hosts held off a mild comeback by Mt. Pleasant in the second half to register a 40-22 victory on Thursday night in a matchup of third-place teams in girls basketball Section 3-4A.

“We wanted to make sure we pressured them early and got off to a good start,” said Belle Vernon first-year coach and alum Kaitlyn Slagus, whose team moved to 3-2 overall, 2-1 in section. “Tha last couple games we had come out flat. Turning them over early was huge for us.”

The senior night victory was enriched by a defensive effort that made things tough for Mt. Pleasant (4-2, 1-2) in the paint. The Leopards constantly closed out on shooters and forced Mt. Pleasant into mistakes.

“I thought we settled in and we started to play defense better and got some stops,” Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi said. “We just couldn’t get anything going offensively. And we couldn’t make a foul shot.”

While the Leopards were not altogether sharp offensively, they shared the ball and had seven scorers. Sophomore Presleigh Colditz led the Leopards with 10 points and classmate Viva Kreis added eight.

Belle Vernon has one of the younger rosters in the WPIAL with only two seniors. But both of them played a key role in the victory. Taylor Rodriguez and Grace Henderson combined for just 10 points but Henderson added 10 rebounds, four steals and four blocks, while Rodriguez had eight rebounds and six assists.

The Leopards made five 3-pointers and 7 of 11 free throws. Mt. Pleasant had one 3 and shot 4 of 16 from the line.

“We have a really young group but we have a lot of shooters,” said Slagus, a former professional player and Bucknell star. “The thing is, if one girl is guarded, she can pass to another and we’ll get a look.”

Mt. Pleasant, which started 3-0 for the first time since 2009-10, came in allowing just 35.3 points per game. The Lady Vikings played then-No. 1 Southmoreland close in spurts but fell, 46-24.

The Vikings only managed four first-half field goals in this game and fell behind 22-9 at halftime.

A 3-pointer from Colditz made it 17-5, and Mt. Pleasant struggled to break the press.

Rodriguez’s three-point play gave the Leopards a 15-point lead (28-13) and Colditz hit a 3 to make it 31-13 late in the third.

Mt. Pleasant pieced together an 8-0 run early in the fourth to make it 31-21, but three straight driving scores by Colditz, freshman Tessa Rodriguez and Taylor Rodriguez pushed the margin back to 37-21.

“They cleaned the glass, and they have good shooters which made us help more (on defense),” Giacobbi said. “This was our first road game so we might have been tight.”

Sophomore Tiffany Zelmore led Mt. Pleasant with 10 points.

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

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