Gardinier’s career game helps Quaker Valley get by Belle Vernon, into PIAA quarterfinals

Friday, March 11, 2022 | 9:19 PM

Belle Vernon didn’t know Jack.

“That No. 5, where the (heck) did he come from?” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said after the game.

The Leopards won’t soon forget No. 5 after what he did to them in the state playoffs. Quaker Valley is going to remember his performance for a long time, too.

Quaker Valley 6-foot guard Jack Gardinier, hardly a blip on the Leopards’ radar heading into their PIAA matchup with the unbeaten Quakers, had the game of his life, erupting for a career-high 36 points as the Quakers held off Belle Vernon, 86-75, in a Class 4A second-round game Friday night at North Allegheny.

A Division III Susquehanna commit, Gardinier made 7 of 9 3-pointers for the game and scored 27 after halftime, 16 in the third quarter.

The senior came in averaging about 8 points, and his previous career-high was 21. He missed much of his freshman year with an injury before returning to earn a starting spot.

“I was making some shots in warmups, but I didn’t think this would happen,” Gardinier said. “I feel like it’s a reward for me. I don’t get the shot opportunities playing with great players in Adou (Thiero) and Markus (Frank). But I can play, too. I showed what I can do.”

Said Quaker Valley coach Mike Matroianni: “He’s a star point guard on any other team.”

With Quaker Valley (25-0), it’s either Adou or Frank. Now, it’s Adou, Frank and Gardinier as the Quakers chase a state title.

Amazingly, they were the only players to score in this win.

Yes, three guys combined for 86 points.

Frank poured in 29 with 10 rebounds. Thiero had a triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. The fellow 6-foot-6 seniors did a lot but might not have advanced if it hadn’t been for Gardinier’s big night. He emerged from their shadows to hit corner 3s, slash the lane for layups, dive for loose balls and defend constantly.

Still, Belle Vernon (20-5) gave the Quakers everything it had.

“We saw (Gardinier) make a couple of 3s (on film) in the last game, but that was about it,” Salvino said. “He was unbelievable. They made a couple runs that hurt us, but I couldn’t ask my kids for anything more. They played their hearts out.”

Quaker Valley advances to play Fairview (24-2) in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

Belle Vernon (20-5) went jab for jab with the Quakers for much of the night and refused to go away, despite missing senior point guard Devin Whitlock for the second straight game because of a school-imposed suspension for an incident in the handshake line against Montour in the WPIAL semifinals.

Others stepped up — big time.

Freshman Alonzo Wade (24 points) and senior Tyler Kovatch (11) posted career-highs, and sophomore Quinton Martin scored 21 before fouling out late. Martin also grabbed 14 rebounds.

Wade had 15 in the fourth quarter, and Martin put in 14 in the third.

“When you get down like that, it’s tough to make some runs,” Salvino said. “They really made us work.”

And that was part of the plan.

“Belle Vernon played harder than us in the first half,” Mastroianni said. “We play fast and didn’t want to use any timeouts there (in the fourth).”

After falling behind by 10 after the first quarter, the Leopards fought back with a strong second quarter.

An 8-0 run to close the half, capped by senior Daniel Gordon’s deep 3-pointer from the volleyball line tied it 29-29.

“Our kids never quit,” said Salvino, who completed his 38th season, fourth at Belle Vernon, with 700 career wins (639 at Monessen).

After Quaker Valley went ahead 38-31 on a 3 from Gardinier, Martin and Wade answered with 3s, and Martin finished a three-point play to tie it again, 43-43, with 4 minutes, 13 seconds to play in the third.

“Belle Vernon is a super-tough team,” Gardinier said. “They’re just a tough bunch of guys. We knew they weren’t going to go away. This game says a lot about our toughness, too, though.”

Gardinier made his sixth 3 to put the Quakers up 60-50 early in the third as the WPIAL champions began to finally gain some separation.

Senior Joe Klanchar (9 points) made a short jumper to close the gap to seven (64-57), but Gardinier kept shooting, Frank had success getting to the rim and Thiero made 7 of 8 free throws down the stretch in an NBA-like fourth quarter.

Frank had 13 two-point field goals.

“Those two (Thiero and Frank) are an enigma,” Mastroianni said. “We don’t tell the other guys not to shoot. We’re a very unselfish team. We know Jack is capable of scoring like that.”

The Quakers had 28 points to Belle Vernon’s 25 in the final eight minutes.

Belle Vernon could only get to within 10 (80-70) on a 3 from Gordon, who scored eight.

The teams combined for 19 3s, 10 by the Leopards.

Quaker Valley is back in the state quarterfinals for the first time since the 2017-18 season.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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