Belle Vernon’s Devin Whitlock steals show with Laurel Highlands’ Rodney Gallagher sidelined

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021 | 10:50 PM


Fans wanting to see a battle between Laurel Highlands standout Rodney Gallagher and Belle Vernon’s Devin Whitlock were likely a little disappointed Wednesday.

The Mustangs’ superstar missed the game with an ankle injury, but Whitlock still shined with 26 points as the Leopards knocked off the defending WPIAL Class 5A champions with a 64-56 victory in nonsection play.

Even with Gallagher nursing a slight ankle injury, the Mustangs’ talent is still deep led by Keondre DeShields and Brandon Davis. Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino was impressed with his team’s performance, calling it the best game it has put together so far this season.

“Even without Gallagher, LH is a really good team. They have those two guys that transferred in, and they’re great ballplayers,” Salvino said. “Obviously, Gallagher makes them better, but there’s a lot of talent there.”

The Leopards pushed in front early in the second quarter after trailing 17-15 at the end of the opening eight minutes.

Back-to-back 3-pointers from Daniel Gordon and Jake Haney gave the Leopards a 21-18 lead.

“It’s tough when they’re knocking down threes like that. We knew coming in they had good shooters,” LH coach Rick Hauger said. “When they’re doing that, it allows Devin to do what he does.

“We have to do a better job of getting out on those shooters with our hands up. There were a lot of defensive lapses caused by us being out of position.”

Belle Vernon freshman Quinton Martin, who finished with eight points and 10 rebounds, scored with two seconds to go to give the Leopards a 31-25 lead at the half.

“I thought we did a great job on the boards. LH had a big size advantage on us and we hustled after everything. Quinton Martin did a great job for us there,” Salvino said.

Haney carried the offense for Belle Vernon (3-1) in the third quarter, dropping 10 of his 16 points. He nailed a pair of 3-pointers in the frame as the Leopards built their lead to 11 with just over a minute to go.

The Mustangs (2-2) got five straight points from Caleb Palumbo to make it 47-41, but Whitlock made a remarkable run to the basket, just beating the buzzer to push the lead back to 49-41 after three.

“I really thought we’d do better on the boards,” Hauger said. “In 5A, it’s not too often we’re going to have a size advantage again like we did tonight. It didn’t allow us to get out in transition like the way we wanted to. You rebound and you pass the ball up quickly, and we didn’t do that. We fall in love with the dribble too much. A passed ball can get up the floor a lot faster than anyone can run.”

Davis, a transfer from First Love Academy, scored the opening five points of the fourth quarter to cut the Leopards’ lead down to three, but Whitlock had a response.

The junior scored nine of a 10-point run over a span of 4:04 to push his team’s lead up to 59-46.

“It really started with us on the boards and hitting our threes,” Salvino said. “When we’re hitting those shots, it gives Devin so much more room to attack. He was going downhill to the basket.”

Davis scored another five points to cut the BVA lead to 61-53 with two minutes to go, but the Mustangs didn’t score another basket until a late 3-pointer with five seconds to go.

“Obviously, when you’re missing your main ballhandler out there like we were, things are going to be different,” Hauger said of Gallagher’s absence. “It’s still early in the season, and we have a lot of talented guys where we’re still trying to figure some things out.

“Credit to Belle Vernon, they played hard and they’re a really good team. They played well.”

DeShields finished with 13 points for the Mustangs. Palumbo added 10.

Salvino was pleased with his team’s performance and happy to see them up for the challenge LH presented.

“When you’re playing a team like them, our kids really got up for that,” Salvino said. “I was impressed with Daniel’s play tonight. He didn’t score as much, but he was doing a great job on the boards and a lot of other things.”

Gordon only scored five points, but the junior finished with seven rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“This was probably our best game of the season in terms of putting it all together,” Salvino said. “Any time you beat a 5A school that’s a contender like they are, you take a lot from that.

“Now we play Mt. Pleasant Friday and we just want to make sure we don’t come out flat. It’s an important game and we need to enter it just like we did this one.”

The Leopards and Vikings will tip off Friday at 6:30 p.m. Laurel Highlands will face another big challenge on the road at Chartiers Valley at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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