Short-handed Upper St. Clair uses ‘7 starters’ in victory over Bethel Park

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Saturday, January 11, 2020 | 12:33 AM


With two starters out with injuries, Upper St. Clair could’ve easily explained away a lackluster effort Friday night, but the Panthers made sure that wasn’t necessary.

Upper St. Clair showed its depth, made eight first-half 3-pointers and defeated Bethel Park, 67-50, for a key Section 2-6A victory. USC junior Luke Gensler had four threes by halftime and scored a team-high 23 points.

They played without both senior Josh Russell and junior David Pantelis for the first time, but the short-handed Panthers never looked worried or weary.

“They’re down two starters including their best shooter, but we let them get rolling at home,” Bethel Park coach Josh Bears said. “There was no conscience in the shots they were taking. All five guys they had on the floor we had to consider lights-out shooters because they had the momentum and they were feeling it.”

Landon Rauch, forced into USC’s starting lineup, had four points in the first quarter. Zack Kingseed, the other new starter, had two threes in the second.

USC led 23-11 after one quarter and 43-20 at half.

“We’ve said from the beginning of the year that we have nine starters. Now we have seven,” said USC coach Danny Holzer, calling this one of his deepest teams in years. “We lead 6A in scoring, but nobody averages more than 15 points a game. That’s our team in a nutshell.”

Ryan Meis led Bethel Park (7-6, 2-2) with a game-high 24 points.

Fifth-ranked Upper St. Clair (12-1, 4-0) remained undefeated in the section and visits third-ranked Mt. Lebanon (10-3, 4-0) on Tuesday. Luke Banbury scored 12 points and Ethan Dahlem added 11 for USC.

“If we wouldn’t have started strong, were down a few points and the ball wasn’t going in, it would have been interesting,” Holzer said. “I think our team is resilient. I’m confident we would have recovered. But it would have been tough.”

Pantelis will miss a couple of weeks with a sprained ankle. Russell, who missed last season with a knee injury, is out for the season with a broken foot that required surgery. Both averaged 10 points.

“We just found out that (Russell’s) out the whole year,” Gensler said. “That’s a big motivation for us. He told us (the recovery time is) eight weeks. If we do well enough and get to states, we’ll get him in the jersey one more time. We definitely want that for him because he’s always been there for us.”

Bethel Park entered Friday with confidence and left Upper St. Clair’s gym disappointed. The Black Hawks had almost toppled Mt. Lebanon earlier in the week, so they’d expected to challenge USC.

“The way we lost the Lebo game the other night, we were kind of validated,” Bears said. “We felt we belonged in the upper echelon of teams in 6A. … However, if you come in here on the road, you’d better be ready.”

USC’s shooters made four threes in the first quarter. Gensler had two, Luke Banbury made one and Andrew Casey added another. Gensler and Kingseed made two each in the second.

“Kinger came out shooting lights out; we needed him in this game,” said Gensler, who scored 14 first-half points. “That was a big confidence boost for us.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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