Jeston Beatty hits big shot in final seconds to send South Allegheny past Beaver

Monday, February 20, 2023 | 11:33 PM

Over the last few seasons, South Allegheny has made a habit out of seeing late leads slip away only to respond in the final seconds and come away victorious.

That was the case again Monday night.

The No. 8 Gladiators saw a nine-point fourth-quarter lead slip from their grasp before Jeston Beatty hit a game-winning 3-pointer with over six seconds remaining in a 59-57 win over No. 9 Beaver in the first round of the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

“It was a big moment and those big moments call for special players to make plays, and Jeston stepped up in a crucial moment for us,” South Allegheny coach Tony DiCenzo said. “We let the lead slip again and we put ourselves in a position we shouldn’t have been in, but we were resilient enough to make the one play we needed to win. We’re moving on, and that’s all that matters this time of year.”

Beatty was one of three double-digit scorers for the Gladiators (19-4), who will advance to the quarterfinals to meet with No. 1 Lincoln Park on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.

Beatty netted 13 points, including six in the fourth quarter.

“This is a crazy feeling,” Beatty said. “I’m just happy we get to move on.”

Beaver (17-5) didn’t make the win easy by any means.

The Bobcats scored seven of the first 10 points in the fourth quarter with four of them coming from Ty Butler, who was one of four players in double figures as he tied for a team-high 13 points.

After Beatty converted inside to extend SA’s lead to 53-46 with 4:42 to go, Alex Tomalski scored on back-to-back possessions and Brady Mayo hit three foul shots, as a 7-0 run allowed the Bobcats to tie it with under three minutes to play.

Bryce Epps and Beatty combined to go 3 for 4 from the free-throw line over the next minute and a half to put SA ahead by three at 56-53.

With under a minute to go, Ty Butler hit an open layup and Sawyer Butler later converted on one of his own to make it 57-56 Beaver with 21.2 seconds to go. Sawyer Butler finished with 11 points.

After Beatty hit his late trey to put SA ahead by two, it appeared as if Mayo was fouled on a desperation 3-point attempt. But Beaver was credited with a timeout prior to the foul, wiping it from existence.

Ty Butler attempted a corner 3 in the final seconds, but it didn’t fall.

“It was two great teams battling it out in the first round, and I hope it lived up to what people said it was going to be,” Beaver coach Casey Kaiser said. “It was great basketball all around and came down to the last shot.”

Bryce Epps, the all-time leading scorer in the history of the boys basketball program at SA, paced the Gladiators with a game-high 23 points.

He had 14 in the first half, including the first nine of the game as he went a perfect 3 for 3 from 3-point range to help SA take an early 9-4 lead that became a 17-9 advantage after one.

“I was waiting all day for this game. I was so anxious to come out and play,” Bryce Epps said. “I knew that if I got going early, our confidence would grow and the other guys would follow.”

Epps continued his stellar offensive production in the second quarter, especially in the final 33 seconds when he scored three unanswered points, including two on a coast-to-coast layup at the buzzer to give SA a 36-27 lead at the half.

The evident confidence he was playing with did indeed spread around to his teammates.

Michael Michalski had nine of his 14 points in the opening half, while Beatty contributed with seven and Cam Epps netted six of his nine.

“When we all score like that, we’re going to be a hard team to beat,” Bryce Epps said.

Beaver started the second half in ideal fashion, scoring the first six points on buckets from Ty Butler, Sawyer Butler and Aiden Townsend, who added a 13-point showing.

The spree allowed the Bobcats to rally back to within three at 36-33.

“We stick together through the good and the bad. We have each other’s backs and we know that, at the end of the day, we have a chance to win a game with the ball in our hands,” Kaiser said. “They battled for one another and found that extra gear.”

SA responded accordingly, as a trey by Cam Epps helped kickstart a 12-2 run over the span of two and a half minutes that pushed the Gladiators’ advantage back to a sizable margin at 48-35.

Michalski had five of his points during the run. Bryce Epps added four, including a jumper that prompted Beaver to take a timeout with 1:24 left in the frame.

“We’re an experienced group, and we knew we just had to hunker down and get stops on defense,” Bryce Epps said. “We just had to get the momentum back on our side.”

Mayo was Beaver’s other double-digit scorer as he finished with 12 points in the loss.

SA now turns its attention to top-seeded Lincoln Park, which earned an 86-62 win over No. 17 West Mifflin on Monday night.

“We’ve been against upper-echelon opponents the last two or three years,” DiCenzo said. “We’re going to come in, compete and give them everything we have.”

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