Shaler pulls out low-scoring win over Bethel Park with 1 basket in 4th quarter

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Friday, February 23, 2024 | 1:14 AM


The numbers on the scoreboard sure seemed to be stuck.

A few days after scoring more than 70 in its playoff opener, Shaler finished the third quarter Thursday tied at 24 in a grinding game that was playing right into its opponent’s plans. The Titans then made only one basket in the entire fourth quarter, yet proved they can win in a variety of ways.

Senior Joey Miller broke the tie with a 3-pointer less than a minute into the fourth, and No. 3 Shaler relied on defense and late free throws for a 35-26 victory over No. 11 Bethel Park in a WPIAL Class 5A quarterfinal at Mt. Lebanon.

There was a six-minute stretch in the fourth where neither team scored.

“We like to think we’re a fast-paced team and we are, but the good thing about our team is we’re unique,” said Shaler senior Keegan Smetanka, who scored a game-high 12 points. “We can play any style and still come out with a win. We’ve had many slugfests and we find a way to pull it out.”

Shaler (22-2) advances to face No. 2 Franklin Regional (21-2) in a semifinal Monday at a site and time to be determined. The two teams met in a nonsection game in mid-January that Franklin Regional won 72-62 in two overtimes.

“There have been four (Shaler) teams who reached the semifinals but there has never been a team make it to the finals,” Smetanka said. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Bethel Park (12-12) pulled off a low-scoring upset in the first round by controlling the tempo, and for a while the Black Hawks were in position to do it again. The teams were tied 16-16 at half and 24-24 after three.

After Miller’s 3-pointer in the fourth, the score stayed 27-24 for six minutes.

“We’ve said all year that the best teams can adjust to any style, whether you’re playing fast or you’re playing slow,” Shaler coach Rob Niederberger said. “We played Char Valley and had 73 (in the first round). Today, we had 35. We can play that ugly slugfest or we can play that fast-paced game. We adjust.”

Shaler’s offense didn’t need to do much in the fourth because its defense held Bethel Park scoreless for more than seven minutes. Bethel’s only fourth-quarter points came on a layup by Connor Karabinos with 33 seconds left.

Each team scored only one basket in the fourth.

“It was all defense,” Smetanka said. “Joey Miller hit a huge 3, and 27-24 was the score for the whole fourth quarter. We knew shots weren’t falling, so we had to lock it down on defense.”

Bethel Park combined went 0 for 4 from the foul line in the fourth and missed four of five shots from the field. Shawn Davis led the Black Hawks with six points and four teammates scored four points apiece.

“One of our problems is scoring points,” Bethel Park coach Dante Calabria said. “We didn’t make our free throws. Even when they got up by three, we had chances and couldn’t convert. That’s our Achilles heel.”

Five offensive fouls in the first half didn’t help. Calabria said those calls took some aggressiveness out of his scorers.

“If you look in the second half, we don’t have any penetration,” he said. “That’s a direct result. … When you get those calls like that, it changes the whole idea of the game. The kids get a little gun-shy of driving and it becomes a completely different game.”

Still clinging to a 27-24 lead, Shaler made eight of 12 free throws in the last 90 seconds to win the final quarter, 11-2.

Smetanka went 4 for 6 from the foul line in the fourth, Sam Himrod made two free throws and Kaden Orga and Brandon London made one each. London finished with nine points.

The teams also met in a season opener that Shaler won 79-59. Bethel Park came with a different strategy this time, choosing to slow Shaler with a zone defense.

“Hats off to Bethel Park, they had a great game plan,” Niederberger said. “But we always talk about how defense and rebounding win championships. We held them to two points in the fourth quarter.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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