Bench scoring helps Upper St. Clair rally past Bethel Park, clinch second place

Friday, January 31, 2020 | 11:32 PM

Upper St. Clair used an in-your-face defense to overcome a slow start and was lifted by the return of an injured player in beating Bethel Park, 71-57 on Friday.

The win was the fourth straight for the Panthers and clinched second place in Section 2-6A.

“We got a big lift with Dave Pantelis coming back,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said. “That kid hasn’t played in three weeks, so you could see what he means to our team.”

The Panthers needed a lift after a slow start. Bethel Park fed off senior night pregame ceremonies to jump out to a 17-8 lead after the first quarter.

Senior Ron Zeiler scored nine points in the opening quarter for the Black Hawks, but did not score again the rest of the game.

Trailing 22-10 early in the second quarter, USC finally came to life by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers by juniors Ethan Dahlem and Luke Gensler.

“I knew we had to stay the course, do what we do and kind of crawl back in, and we were able to do that,” Holzer said.

By the time Luke Banbury got a steal and buried a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, the Panthers had outscored the Black Hawks 23-6 to take a five-point lead into the locker room.

“Luke’s a football player, very athletic,” Holzer said. “Boy, does he play hard. He has a motor that is just unbelievable.”

The game stayed close in the second half, but USC never lost the lead and eventually pulled away thanks to a balanced attack that ended with five Panthers scoring double-digit points.

Gensler and Banbury each scored 13 points, Andrew Casey had 12, Pantelis 11 and Dahlem 10 points.

Bethel Park (5-4, 11-8) was paced by senior Ryan Meis, who had a game-high 28 points.

One of the big stories of the game was Thomas DiRenzo, the Hawks’ second-leading scorer who had been averaging nearly 21 points per game, being limited to only two fourth-quarter points by the swarming Panthers defense.

With so much going for Upper St. Clair with a balanced attack, strong defense and good rebounding, Holzer believes it’s another intangible that has made this season a success.

“All these kids really like each other,” he said. “In today’s day and age, it’s hard for any sport at any level. We have 15 kids that dress for varsity, and they all really get a kick out of one another.”

Upper St. Clair (7-2, 17-3) has a chance for an impressive finishing kick to the regular season. They have two games left against section champions from 6A as they host Mt. Lebanon on Tuesday and visit Fox Chapel on Friday of next week.

“If you look at our resume and our resume ends with wins over Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon and Fox Chapel, and that’s a big if,” Holzer said, “boy that committee is going to have something to think about.”

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