Bethel Park girls basketball team beats short-handed Plum

Thursday, December 29, 2022 | 8:32 PM

Bethel Park came into Latrobe’s two-day holiday girls basketball tournament having won just once in its first seven games.

The Black Hawks came away with a pair of victories to stretch their winning streak to three after the latest success Thursday, a 41-36 decision over short-handed Plum.

The Mustangs, who won seven of their first nine games, were beaten in both games of the tournament while playing without their injured leading scorer, Megan Marston, who is averaging 15 points.

The 5-foot-8 Marston is sidelined after injuring her foot Dec. 21 in a 36-28 victory over West Allegheny. She sat on the Plum bench the past two nights with her foot in a boot.

Mary Boff scored 13 points, including 6 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter, and Sophia Nath scored all eight of her points in the fourth as Class 6A Bethel Park made 10 of 11 from the line in the final eight minutes to hold off Class 5A Plum.

“We shoot them a lot in practice,” Bethel Park coach Sam Loadman said after the Black Hawks converted 12 of 14 free throws. “We put a lot of emphasis on them.”

One night after posting a 62-56 victory over Indiana, Bethel Park spotted Plum a four-point lead after the first quarter and roared back to take down the Mustangs in a game that went down to the wire.

Bethel Park (3-6, 0-2 Section 2-6A) led by just three points on two occasions in the final 19 seconds but survived as Boff sank four consecutive free throws for the Black Hawks, who opened the season with six losses before defeating Trinity, 72-56, five days before the Latrobe tournament.

With her team’s Section 2 schedule resuming Monday at Chartiers Valley, Loadman said getting a pair of victories at Latrobe gives the Black Hawks some steam.

“We can use these games as momentum,” she said. “It was good to come up here and get two wins, get some momentum going back into section play. It’s an extremely physical section. Every game is a battle. So, to win a close one like this gives us some good momentum.”

Three of the top five teams in Class 6A reside in Section 2-6A: No. 2 Upper St. Clair, No. 4 Peters Township and No. 5 Mt. Lebanon.

After both teams experienced a slow, grinding start that saw Plum hold an 8-4 advantage after the first quarter, Bethel Park got going. The Black Hawks took an 18-15 lead into halftime and built the margin to 25-21 after three quarters, never again surrendering the lead.

But they never were ahead by more than six points.

A 16-15 fourth-quarter edge for Bethel Park, while both teams played at a faster pace, sent the Black Hawks to their hard-fought victory.

“We got it down twice to a one-possession game there,” Plum coach Rich Mull said, “but we just couldn’t catch them. There’s not a lot you can do in that situation.”

Pascale Olczak led Plum (7-3, 2-0 Section 1-5A) with 10 points. The Mustangs made 9 of 15 free throws, including 5 of 6 in the fourth quarter.

But while the foul shots were falling with regularity, neither team could find its range from behind the 3-point arc, each making one long-range shot.

“You just need to take care of every possession in a game like this,” Loadman said. “You never know how important they are until you look back on them. Every one is significant. You’ve got to take care of the ball.”

Mull hopes to have Marston back as soon as possible after first fearing the high-scoring guard had suffered a fractured foot. After it was re-examined, however, Mull said the foot is not broken.

“We’re hoping that next week — we’re keeping our fingers crossed — she can come back,” Mull said.

Plum, which opened the Latrobe tournament Wednesday with a 47-35 loss to the host team, will entertain Woodland Hills in a section game Monday.

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