Elizabeth Forward gears up for playoffs with thrilling OT win over rival Belle Vernon

Friday, February 9, 2024 | 11:12 PM

Both coaches – Elizabeth Forward’s Nolan Larry and Belle Vernon’s Joe Salvino – saw an eerie resemblance between Friday night’s game and last season’s section finale between the two rivals.

Unfortunately for the Leopards, the results were similar as well.

EF’s Isaiah Turner hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter before fouling out and Cy Herchelroath hit a 3-pointer to give his team the lead in overtime as the Warriors claimed a thrilling 71-64 win over their neighbors to the south to lock up third place in the Section 3-4A standings.

Herchelroath hit 5 of 6 free throws late in overtime to seal the win and finished with a team-high 21 points. Turner, who fouled out in the final minute of the fourth and didn’t play in the extra frame, finished with 20 points.

“I’m not going to lie. When you have one of your top players on the bench heading into that extra period, especially against them, I wasn’t sure how high my confidence was,” Larry said. “But I do have faith in those guys and they did a fantastic job of not rushing things, controlling their emotions and hitting big free throws down the stretch. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The Leopards carried a 47-44 lead in the fourth quarter and got it up to as high as six with seven minutes remaining.

Herchelroath and Charlie Meehleib had back-to-back baskets to cut it down to two. From there, the two teams exchanged buckets the rest of the way, but the Warriors and Turner were hitting 3s.

Turner scored 13 of his 20 in the second half.

“Honestly, I thought the difference in the second half was our rebounding,” Salvino said. “I think we only had one offensive rebound. We didn’t hit some shots and they limited us to only one shot each trip down the floor.

“The other thing, I don’t know how we ended up, but we have to hit our free throws.”

The Leopards shot only 39% from the line, hitting 9 of 23.

Turner’s third 3-pointer of the fourth gave the Warriors a one-point lead, but he fouled Zion Moore on the next possession and fouled out. Moore hit 1 of 2 from the line to tie it at 58.

“Isaiah played hard like he always does,” Larry said of the senior guard. “He was trying to make a play there. It was an emotional, physical game.”

In the extra period, Tommy Davis – who finished with 10 rebounds for the Leopards – scored the opening basket on a putback, but from there, it was all Warriors.

“Our rebounding was lacking after the loss at Uniontown. We got embarrassed and our team took it personally. We came back and had probably our best practice. We did a lot of boxing out and I think that was the difference. We gave ourselves extra opportunities on the offensive end,” Larry said.

Defensively, the Warriors rebounded well in extra time, forcing the Leopards to foul. The Warriors hit their shots at the line to push themselves to victory.

“You never want to head to the playoffs off a loss, especially to a rival like this,” Salvino said. “That’s something we’re going to have to push through.”

The Warriors led 11-10 after one quarter thanks to EF freshman Tyler Basic. He came off the bench and hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final minute.

In the second, Belle Vernon’s Moore got cooking. He scored 16 of his game-high 32 in the second quarter. His three-point play with less than a second remaining tied the game at 27 at the break.

“Just like last year, this needs to be a springboard for us,” Larry said. “A big game like this can really lead to big things.

“The atmosphere inside here was fantastic. You win some games, more people come out and get to see exciting games like this.”

The Warriors will wait for their playoff matchup to be announced Monday when WPIAL brackets come out. On Monday night, the Leopards will travel to Thomas Jefferson for their season finale.

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