No. 11 Burrell grinds out win over Shady Side Academy to reach Class 3A semifinals

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Thursday, February 22, 2024 | 10:54 PM


The rubber matchup between Burrell and Shady Side Academy in a WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinal Thursday went the way of the Bucs.

But it wasn’t easy.

None of the Burrell players thought it would be.

In a grind of a game that went to the final seconds, the No. 11 Bucs (15-7) held off a furious Bulldogs rally in the fourth to come away with a 48-44 victory in front of a spirited crowd at Fox Chapel.

“It was a battle the first two times, too, and we know each other so well,” Burrell coach Mike Fantuzzo said.

“I know (Shady Side coach David Vandnais) and I have talked, and we expected nothing more than close, physical game. Both teams made plays all over the court. We’re so happy to get this win.”

Burrell won the first game between the teams, 46-41, on Dec. 15. Shady Side won the rematch, 65-50, on Jan. 20.

The Bucs are in the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 2013 when they advanced to the WPIAL finals, losing to Beaver Falls.

Burrell’s win Thursday also clinched a spot in the PIAA tournament for the second time in three years.

The Bucs now turn their attention to Monday’s semifinal matchup against No. 2 Mohawk at a site and time to be determined. Mohawk defeated No. 7 Yough, 54-48, on Thursday.

“I am so proud of the guys,” Fantuzzo said. “They’ve all been working so hard and are so motivated. We hit a rough patch during the year, but they never quit and showed up and worked. Now we’re moving on with a chance to get to the Pete. It definitely won’t be easy on Monday, but I know we’ll be ready.”

Shady Side (16-8), the No. 3 seed, is not done as it will play Saturday in the consolation bracket with a chance to stay alive for one of three additional state tournament spots from WPIAL Class 3A that don’t go to the four semifinalists.

“I told the guys to let it burn tonight, but a quick turnaround is probably the best thing,” Vadnais said.

“It’s never fun to lose in the playoffs, especially to a section team. Burrell played better than us tonight. I thought we were well-prepared and ready to go. We just didn’t have our best game. Give the credit to Burrell and their players. They made shots when they needed to and got a number of defensive stops.

“We’ll get the guys back in the gym tomorrow and work to get past today and get ready for Saturday.”

Burrell led by four with just under three minutes left in the third quarter. But it then went on a 9-0 run with buckets from Easu King-Buchak, Macky Bennis and Colt Christie to open a 40-27 advantage with 50 seconds left in the quarter.

Shady Side responded, starting with a 3-pointer from Seamus Riordan with 27 seconds left in the third.

He then converted a pair of foul shots early in the fourth when Burrell’s Tucker Bitar was whistled for an intentional foul after turning the ball over.

A jumper from Eli Teslovich then drew the Bulldogs closer at 40-34.

Shady Side pulled to within 45-44 on a layup from Teslovich, who led his team with 18 points.

But the Bulldogs were not able to tie the score or take the lead. Bitar missed his first three free throws in the final quarter, but his fourth was true.

It gave Burrell a four-point lead with 10 seconds left.

“I had been in that position probably four times this year,” Bitar said. “My first free throw was off, but I just had to refocus and get that second one for my team. I just couldn’t let them down. I just had to put it in.”

He was clutch late despite being held to an uncharacteristic four points for the game.

Shady Side had several shots not fall in the final 10 seconds as the time ticked away before the Burrell faithful erupted in celebration.

Bennis, a senior, led the way for Burrell with 23 points. He was 4 for 4 from the line in the fourth and 6 for 6 in the second half.

“We played pretty good defense and shut them down a lot through the first two quarters,” Fantuzzo said. “I know we couldn’t do that for the whole game. They are just two good of a team. But we learned from past games about how to weather that storm, and we did.”

King-Buchak scored eight points for the Bucs, while Joey Discello and Christie had six apiece.

Cam Mallory also reached double-figures in scoring for Shady Side with 10 points, while Riordan added nine.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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