Southmoreland cuts it close, beats Belle Vernon to clinch share of section title

Thursday, February 18, 2021 | 10:32 PM

Talk about cutting it close.

Southmoreland knew it was going to bring out the ladder and scissors and cut down the net if it defeated Belle Vernon on Thursday night to clinch at least a share of back-to-back section championships.

Belle Vernon didn’t know about the Scotties’ plans but played like it did, hanging around and giving the hosts all they could handle in a Section 3-4A game that turned into a defensive struggle.

Ultimately, Southmoreland did enough to have its postgame celebration as sophomore point guard Olivia Cernuto scored 22 points, including 11 of 17 free throws, to lead the fourth-ranked Scotties to a 43-39 victory, their 30th straight win at home.

“We knew we wanted to (cut down the net), and I think that was on our minds,” said Cernuto, who made 7 of 11 foul shots in the final quarter. “We were leading and were thinking about the outcome before the end happened.”

Southmoreland went 13 years between section titles but now has two in a row.

The Scotties (13-2, 10-1), who have won nine straight games, built a 14-point lead in the second quarter and appeared poised to pull away. But a rough-around-the-edges third quarter and an overall clunky second half almost did them in as Belle Vernon (7-6, 4-3) hung around, led by point guard Viva Kreis.

The sophomore scored a career-high 20 points, 11 in the fourth.

Cernuto expected the Leopards to put up a fight after the Scotties struggled to win in Rostraver.

“We have to look at each game and play our game,” Cernuto said. “We can’t worry about who (the opponent is).”

After each team managed just four points in the third, giving Southmoreland a 31-20 lead, Belle Vernon used a 9-1 run to cut it to 32-29 with 4 minutes, 53 seconds to go.

Kreis, who plays with a smile on her face and brings energy to the offense, scored on some aggressive drives and hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining to make it 42-39.

As Southmoreland missed layups — the Scotties had just two field goals after halftime — the Leopards had chance after chance, mainly at the foul line, to take control. But they only made 11 of 23 attempts to squander the opportunities.

Southmoreland wasn’t much better at 15 for 27.

“We played better than the last time against Southmoreland, so that’s a good thing,” Belle Vernon coach Kaitlyn Slagus said. “We dug in deep and fought hard, but it came down to free throws and missed layups. We practice them every day. It’s just hard to mimic game situations.”

Belle Vernon outscored Southmoreland in the fourth 19-12. The Scotties came in with a section-best 31.3 points-against average. They beat Belle Vernon, 48-34, earlier in the season.

Still, Southmoreland would not be denied, especially at home. It was far from perfect, but the streak continues.

“When we got a sizable lead, I think we may have gotten too comfortable and let down a little,” Southmoreland first-year coach Amber Cernuto said. “Belle Vernon came out and pressed us defensively. We have to do a better job at making our layups and free throws. That has been a problem for us all season.”

One key play was when Olivia Cernuto drove in for a layup and was fouled with 3:25 to go. She made the free throw to make it 36-31.

“I saw the lane and took it,” she said.

Said Coach Cernuto: “We talked about Olivia taking it to the hoop more.”

Slagus didn’t want to put Cernuto at the line so much, but it was a challenge to contain her when she cut to the basket.

“She’s a great point guard and leader for them,” Slagus said. “We wanted to get the ball out of her hands, but it’s tough the way she attacks the rim.”

Junior Delaynie Morvosh added 14 points for Southmoreland with 10 coming in the first half. Only three other girls scored, combining for seven points.

Senior Taylor Rodgriguez fouled out with eight points for Belle Vernon, which had just four scorers. Senior Grace Henderson chipped in seven and pulled down a career-best 17 rebounds.

“Both teams left a lot out there tonight,” Slagus said. “Southmoreland is a really good team, so we knew it would be tough to come here and win.”

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

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