Mt. Lebanon fends off Baldwin to stay atop section

Friday, January 26, 2024 | 11:25 PM

Searching for its first section crown in nearly 40 years, Baldwin entered Friday’s road game at Mt. Lebanon tied for first place in Section 2-6A with the Blue Devils and Upper St. Clair.

The Highlanders knew they had a tough hill to climb on the road against a team that beat them earlier this month by 23 points.

They scratched and clawed, but in the end, they could not finish their attempt to conquer Mount Lebo.

Mt. Lebanon saw its 10-point halftime lead dwindle to three points in the fourth quarter, but time and time again, Baldwin came up with empty possessions and lost, 51-46.

“Baldwin is a good team. We went there and beat them by 20-some points and there was no way in the world I expected that to happen here,” Mt. Lebanon coach Joey David said. “I knew this was going to be a fight, and really that’s what we need because in the playoffs, you get these kinds of tough games.”

Sophomore Liam Sheely got hot in the second half and led the Blue Devils with 17 points while senior Riley Farabaugh was aggressive on both ends of the floor and added 14 points.

The Highlanders came out flying, scoring the game’s first six points and nearly took control midway through the opening quarter; however, junior Caden Cherico missed a 3-pointer that would have put Baldwin up by nine points, and instead Nate Girod answered with a conventional three-point play as Lebo righted the ship.

Both teams relied on a strong half-court defense to turns steals into transition baskets or possessions.

“I’m proud of how hard my guys played,” Baldwin coach Jeff Ackermann said. “I’m proud of how hard we defended.”

Mt. Lebanon picked up five quick fouls in the third quarter and the new double-bonus rule kicked in, allowing Baldwin to chip away at the lead.

The Highlanders took momentum into the final quarter when, down by six points, sophomore Max Marzina hit a half-court shot at the buzzer to cut the Blue Devils’ lead after three quarters to 44-41.

While the teams combined for 35 points in the third quarter, the offensive well went dry in the fourth at both ends of the floor with a combined 12 points in the final eight minutes.

With Mt. Lebanon leading 46-44, Baldwin had six possessions to tie or take the lead and came up empty on all of them.

“Lebo is a very difficult team to come back against,” Ackermann said. “We just couldn’t hit a big shot. We had some great opportunities, but we couldn’t convert.”

Senior Nate Wesling hit four 3s and led Baldwin with 16 points.

The loss drops Baldwin to 4-2 in the section and 12-4 overall. It also ends the Highlanders’ five game winning streak.

Mt. Lebanon is tied for first place with Upper St. Clair at 5-1 in the section and 14-3 overall. The Blue Devils have now won four of their last five and six of their last eight games.

“We get more confident with each victory,” Mt. Lebanon senior Brody Barber said. “It’s all just chemistry gained with each win. Even in practice, every good practice builds chemistry. It all helps, especially in section play.”

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