No. 1 North Hills rolls on with win over No. 4 Pine-Richland

Friday, January 21, 2022 | 11:37 PM

With every win, the North Hills boys basketball team has seen the target grow on its back as an emerging favorite in Class 6A, but it hasn’t been a deterrent.

The Indians went into a hostile environment at Pine-Richland on Friday night and were in a tight game for most of the way before pulling away for an 80-68 win to run their unbeaten streak to 13 to start the season.

North Hills also improved to 7-0 in Section 1.

“It was a heck of a game, and we knew it was going to be,” North Hills coach Buzz Gabos said. “They were in the finals last year and most of that team is back. They’re tested. They’re well-coached and they’re so fundamentally sound on both ends of the floor, so you really have to work and you have to be good. Fortunately we were good enough tonight.”

It was the second victory for the Indians over the Rams this year. They also won 74-70 on Jan. 4. The teams will square off for at third time Feb. 8. With only five teams in Section 1, all teams meet three times.

For the better part of three quarters, the game was within one possession, but Matt Seidl hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third to put the Indians ahead 53-48. North Hills never relinquished the lead from there, outscoring the Rams 27-20 in the final frame. Seidl also sank a 3 right before halftime that gave North Hills a 33-30 lead going into the break.

“The bottom line for us is that we have to play smarter,” Pine-Richland coach Bob Petcash said. “We took two shots at the end of the second and third quarter that we missed and that led to a six-point swing. We also had two other plays where we had mental breakdowns. We have to get better mentally, especially when we game plan for what they did. That makes it hard, but kudos to North Hills. They played hard and are well-coached. It was a good game. The score didn’t indicate it at the end with all the fouling we had to do.”

Will Blass went 10 for 10 at the foul line in the fourth quarter and finished with 19 points. As a team, the Indians were 12 for 13 from the line in the final frame.

“That was huge for us, because if you miss the front end of some of those one-and-ones, it can get a little shaky,” Gabos said. “(Blass) did a great job for us, and as a whole, we did a good job closing out the game.”

Royce Parham and Alex Smith had 20 points apiece for the Indians. Seidl scored 16.

All five Rams that started finished in double figures, led by Luke Shanahan’s 18 points. Andrew Alexander had 15, Joey Dudkowski scored 12, Jameson O’Toole added 11 and Andy Swartout finished with 10.

Even with the loss, Pine-Richland (8-6, 4-3) is still in second place in Section 1. It was the first time this year the Rams lost by double-digits. The first five losses were by a combined 14 points.

They’ll get right back on the court Saturday and face Central Catholic in a nonsection game.

“I’m proud of our guys. They battled and that’s why we are in the hunt,” Petcash said. “We have to get into the playoffs and anything can happen on any given night. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Our section is a beast.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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