Belle Vernon makes splash in 4A girls basketball, shocks No. 1 Southmoreland

Monday, January 3, 2022 | 10:16 PM

Belle Vernon dunked No. 1 Southmoreland then went for a dip.

Leopards girls basketball players told their coach, Kaitlyn Slagus, they would jump into the school swimming pool if they knocked off the visiting Scotties.

Moments after the final horn sounded Monday night, the team was off to make good on their promise, plunging into the water with an impressive 52-40 Section 3-4A victory in the books.

The first-place Leopards (6-2, 3-0) led by 18 in the second half against the sluggish-looking Scotties (5-2 , 1-1).

“At the end, I was looking down the bench because I knew what they wanted to do. I was like, ‘Uh oh,’” Slagus, a former Belle Vernon star, said with a smile. “Now I have some water to clean up. But that’s OK. We’re making memories.”

Several ingredients blended well for the Leopards to stun the Scotties: sizzling shooting, a number of uncontested drives, a thorough box-and-1 on the defensive end — and waves of energy.

Junior guard Viva Kreis was the tone-setter in the Leopards’ big upset as she connected on a career-high 5 of 7 3-pointers — the team tied a season high by making 8 of 14 from long range — and scored a game-high 18 points.

“It was just a great team effort,” Kreis said. “We played with so much energy. Our team goal was to get the upset and jump in the pool. It feels great to be able to do that. Our JV team won in overtime and we followed that up with the win.”

Belle Vernon started to pull away in the third quarter after the Scotties cut an 11-point lead to four at 22-18.

Possessions were solid. The ball moved. Kickouts were fruitful.

Kreis hit a 3 and junior Presleigh Colditz made two 3s in a row for an 11-0 run to push the lead to 40-23 after three quarters. The Scotties could not summon a run and could not overcome the deficit.

“We’ve been working on our 3-point shooting,” Slagus said. “We had to work on some things after the Upper St. Clair game. We shot the ball well tonight.”

Southmoreland, which led briefly in the first quarter, could only cut it to nine (49-38) in the fourth.

Southmoreland only lost by two against Class 6A No. 2 Upper St. Clair, 47-45. But Belle Vernon lost to the Panthers, 68-36.

So much for comparative scores.

The Leopards held the Scotties to five field goals across the second and third quarters and Southmoreland didn’t make a 3 until the fourth when it was down by 17.

“We didn’t rebound well, and our defense broke down today,” Southmoreland coach Amber Cernuto said. “We knew they were a good 3-point shooting team. We needed to get a hand in their faces. We were lackadaisical and hesitant. (Belle Vernon) was pumped up.”

The Leopards limited Scotties senior forward and leading scorer Gracie Spadaro, holding the IUP commit to five points. She was the one in the box-and-1.

Junior point guard Olivia Cernuto led Southmoreland with 14 points and senior Elle Pawilkowsky, left open all night, finished with 10.

“We wanted to clog up the middle and make other girls hurt us,” Slagus said of her team’s defensive approach.

Junior Jenna Dawson, who continues to get more comfortable with a bulky knee brace following ACL surgery, added 10 points for the Leopards.

Junior Farrah Reader added nine, some on hard drives to the rim, while sophomore Tessa Rodriguez pulled down 10 rebounds and dished out six assists. Kreis added five assists.

The Leopards also had an 11-0 run in the first quarter with Kreis hitting a 3, and Dawson scoring from under the basket on a nice feed from Rodriguez, who then made basket of her own to make it 22-11.

Cernuto scored on a slash to the basket to close out the first half with the Scotties down 22-16.

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

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