Fast start lifts No. 2 Peters Township past No. 4 Bethel Park as Indians secure 1st section title since ’09

Saturday, February 11, 2023 | 9:36 AM

No. 4 Bethel Park and No. 2 Peters Township both controlled their own destiny for a title in Section 1-5A going into the final Friday night of the 2022-23 boys basketball regular season.

Peters Township secured its first section championship since 2009 with a dominant 72-45 victory at the AHN Arena at Peters Township High School.

The host Indians (18-3, 9-1) used a 14-0 run to take a 19-5 lead after the game was tied at 5-5 early to start to run away with the second meeting between the two schools this season.

Bethel Park (12-7, 7-2) will play for second place Saturday before the playoff pairings are released Monday afternoon at 3 p.m. on Trib HSSN.

“We got them playing our way which was big for us and the guys were ready to play tonight,” Peters coach Joe Urmann said. “Being able to jump on them from the start a little bit obviously helps.”

After the first quarter ended 22-7, Bethel Park never managed to get the game back within 15 points, thanks in large part to tenacious defense and pressure from the Indians, but also ball distribution. Nine different players scored for Peters Township, which led 39-17 at the halftime break, 56-34 after three and by 27 at game’s end.

It was a much different result than the first time around. Peters Township upended Bethel Park, 75-68, on Jan. 17 in a game that saw 10 lead changes, nine ties and thrilling action. That game was tied 66-66 with 70 seconds left. That was not the case Friday.

Jack Dunbar, after scoring 26 in the first meeting, poured in a game-high 22 and was effective on the glass. Brendan McCullough, a senior guard, scored 13 points. Nate Miller had nine points, Cam Mills contributed eight and Mickey Vaccarello seven to lead the other seven scorers for Peters in the section title-clinching win.

“We’ve been pretty good about taking care of the ball and when we were able to go up on these guys, typically you get that punch back from your opponent,” Urmann said. “I thought they did a little bit of that at the start of the third quarter, but our guys responded to that. We just told our kids to keep their feet on the gas.”

For Dunbar and the group, the section title is the first step toward their hard work paying off in a big way this season.

“There’s a lot of people who didn’t think we could do it,” Dunbar said. “After dropping that first game to TJ to win nine-straight section games… that’s big time. We worked hard all offseason. Everyone’s committed to it and that helped us as a group.”

The Black Hawks were led by Shawn Davis, who had 13 points, and Michael Mathias, who had 12. In all, six Bethel Park players contributed to the 45 points.

The night was frustrating for the Hawks and first-year coach Dante Calabria, but he opted to keep things in perspective.

“They amped up the pressure in the first half and we really didn’t handle it very well,” Calabria said. “We just didn’t control the basketball and take care of the basketball, and they capitalized on it. That set the tone for the game. I think it had more to do with the game. Being that it was for the section, maybe there was a little tightness because that’s not how we play.”

The Hawks will travel to Thomas Jefferson at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in a battle that will determine second place in Section 1-5A, which is a chance for a young group with not a ton of varsity experience prior to this year, to earn a first-round home game.

“They’ve come a long way. They’ve really worked hard and we’re way past my expectations from the beginning of the year,” Calabria said. “It’s due to these guys and their hard work. I told the guys going into this game, ‘we put ourselves in this position. There weren’t many people, if any, that thought we could be here.’ We’ll come right back tomorrow… short memory, you got to be a goldfish.”

The Indians will play a nonsection game against Baldwin on Monday to close the regular season. For now, Urmann said they’ll enjoy the section title, which he said the players have been talking about for a while.

“These guys talk about it. … I’m just so happy for them,” Urmann said. “To think about how far we’ve come since I was initially hired. We have so many guys right now… they just want to win.”

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