Bethel Park gets down and dirty on defense to knock off Upper St. Clair

Tuesday, January 11, 2022 | 10:47 PM

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

There were stretches of the Upper St. Clair at Bethel Park boys basketball battle for first place in Section 2-6A on Tuesday that looked like a young child’s finger painting.

To Black Hawks coach Josh Bears, the game looked like a priceless masterpiece.

Host Bethel Park overcame a sluggish start to come back and hold off the defending 6A champion Panthers, 48-44.

“All the teams that we look at, they want to get out there and run and get out there and score points,” Bears said. “Us being the team that plays this kind of style, we feel we have the advantage. It’s one thing to say we want to dirty the game up, but it’s hard to just do that. The credit goes to the kids.”

The taller Black Hawks started the game in a 2-3 zone. Early on, the zone was sliced and diced by USC, leading to four easy buckets and an 8-0 lead.

However, the zone finally kicked in and the Black Hawks slowly crawled back into the game thanks to their defense.

The Panthers scored only 12 more points the rest of the first half.

Bethel Park never led in the first half but tied the score 20-20 at halftime.

Then the Black Hawks scored the first seven points of the second half.

“I told them at halftime that as much as we want this and as much as it means to us personally, we have an advantage on them, the fact that we aren’t afraid to lose,” Bears said. “We’re going to go out there and we’re going to give you our best effort.”

From the midway point of the fourth quarter when the score was tied 40-40 until the one-minute mark remaining, the Black Hawks took control, outscoring the Panthers, 7-2.

Senior Dolan Waldo led Bethel Park (3-0, 10-1) with 15 points and came up with the big defensive play when he got a piece of a Nick Sukernek 3-point shot from the top of the key with 12 seconds remaining and USC trailing, 47-44.

Upper St. Clair (2-1, 8-2) was led by senior Porter Rauch, who had 17 points, with all but three of them coming in the first and fourth quarters.

Sophomore Devin Hall added 10 points for USC; however, Bethel Park was able to keep senior Tanner O’Grady in check. After scoring 55 points in two wins last week, O’Grady was held to only five points.

“The length of their zone really bothered us,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said. “We were 4 for 23 from the 3-point line. We gave them too many second chances.”

The victory for BP ended a six-game winning streak for the Panthers over the Black Hawks dating to 2018.

“We said in the locker room before the game, you can’t call anything a must win in only the third section game of the season,” Bears said. “But for us and our identity, we could have lost a close game and said, ‘OK, we’re an above-average team.’ What we talked about was, ‘Let’s put a stamp on it. Let’s get ourselves in the conversation.’”

What Bethel Park did with the victory is have folks talking about the Black Hawks being all alone in first place with a big road game at Mt. Lebanon coming up on Friday.

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