Short-handed Belle Vernon advances, gets coach Salvino his 700th career win

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Tuesday, March 8, 2022 | 9:48 PM


After doing postgame interviews, Joe Salvino was sprayed with water as soon as he opened the door to the Belle Vernon locker room. His players surprised him with an onslaught of hydration.

Salvino barely got wet, though. The veteran coach has been around plenty of celebrations over the years and has learned how to dodge the Gatorade coolers and water bottles. He made a stealth move to get out of the way.

He could not avoid making history, though.

Salvino joined some elite company as Belle Vernon advanced in the state playoffs. He won his 700th game as visiting Belle Vernon defeated Obama Academy, 73-51, on Tuesday night in a PIAA Class 4A first-round playoff game.

Salvino, who spent 34 years on the sideline at Monessen before taking over at Belle Vernon in 2018-19, joins Don Graham of North Catholic (801) and Ken Misiak of Geibel (730) as the only boys basketball coaches in WPIAL history with 700 wins.

Salvino already had passed Farrell coaching legend Ed McCluskey for third on the all-time list. McCluskey won 698 games.

At Monessen, he won 639 times, captured six WPIAL championships, two PIAA titles and 21 section plaques. He coached a number of times against Misiak.

“It’s never been about me,” said Salvino, who is 700-285 in 38 seasons. “It’s just another win. Getting 700 is great, but I have been lucky to be around a lot of dedicated players. This is like a team effort.”

Belle Vernon (20-4) did not have much trouble getting the Hall of Fame coach his milestone win, his 61st at Belle Vernon. Although, the Leopards played a man down. Star senior point guard Devin Whitlock sat out for disciplinary reasons stemming from a postgame incident in the handshake line in the WPIAL semifinals against Montour.

He won’t play Friday, either, when the Leopards take on WPIAL champion Quaker Valley (24-0) in the second round at a time and site to be announced. That means he has a school-imposed two-game suspension.

With Whitlock out, others picked up the slack to make sure the Leopards advanced to the second round for the second time in three years.

Senior Daniel Gordon scored a career-high 27 points, and sophomore Quinton Martin added 22, 13 rebounds and five assists.

Martin ran the point with Gordon has his wing man. The pair made for a tough matchup for Obama (12-9).

“Q really stepped up above everyone,” Gordon said. “We needed someone to be the ball-handler. We had some sloppy turnovers, but we played well as a team.”

Belle Vernon overcame a sloppy start to take a 35-17 halftime lead over the Eagles, who had trouble with the Leopards’ pressure from the tip.

The Leopards subbed more and worked the ball around for shots, another product of missing Whitlock, a career 1,600-plus-point scorer.

A 9-0 run helped the Leopards outscore the Eagles, 21-6, in the second quarter.

“We needed (Martin and Gordon) to have big games,” Salvino said. “Some guys came off the bench and played well, too. We didn’t play too well in the second half. It’s different when you don’t have one of the best players in the WPIAL on the floor.”

Obama played even with the Leopards in the third, with each scoring 19. But the Eagles could cut a 23-point deficit no closer than 13 (58-45) before a long fourth quarter finally ended.

Junior Evan Pohlot made a 3-pointer to make it 52-29 and kept the lead at 23 with another basket late in the third. Pohlot finished with nine points.

Bryce Carter led Obama with 19 points and Xzavier Rodgers added 13.

Gordon had 15 in the second half. Martin scored 11 in each half.

“We moved the ball well and took better shots as the game went on,” Martin said. “I knew this could be my last game with the seniors. It’s great to see coach Sal get the win. He’s a great coach and a great person.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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