Southmoreland finds a way past McKeesport, improves to 16-0

Monday, January 20, 2020 | 11:04 PM

Clutching a precarious lead, Southmoreland did not take care of the basketball particularly well in the fourth quarter and McKeesport pressed the Scotties into turnovers.

It didn’t matter.

Southmoreland ran into foul trouble and also missed its share of free throws.

It didn’t matter.

McKeesport kept coming back.

Yep, it didn’t matter.

Undefeated teams seem to mask their faults in the biggest games, work around their deficiencies and find ways to win.

The second-ranked Scotties did that Monday night as they continually turned negatives into positives on the way to a 53-48 victory over No. 5 McKeesport before a packed gym in Alverton in a Section 3-4A game.

“We got a little sloppy at times,” Scotties coach Brian Pritts said. “We picked up fouls and let them get to the rim on the defensive end. But our girls hung in there and fought against a quality team.”

Southmoreland (16-0, 9-0) has now won 18 in a row at home and moved closer to its first section title since 2007.

Senior Sarah Pisula and sophomore Delaynie Morvosh both fouled out in the fourth quarter, but the Scotties still slowly extended their lead and refused to have their spirit broken.

“I told the girls, ‘You’re playing not to lose,’” Pritts said. “I was proud of the way they responded. What a great atmosphere we had here tonight.”

Sophomore Gracie Spadaro finished with a team-high 13 points, freshman point guard Olivia Cernuto added 12, and Pisula had 11 points and 10 rebounds in the victory.

The Scotties gave away 17 turnovers, 10 after halftime, and shot 23 of 37 from the foul line in a game that included 12 ties and 13 lead changes.

McKeesport, led by senior Jhayla Bray’s 19 points and 13 rebounds, made 15 of 27 free throws.

“It’s very frustrating coaching against them,” McKeesport coach Eric Smith said of Southmoreland. “They’re undefeated for a reason. They are so good defensively, and their size poses a problem for us.”

Southmoreland won the first meeting, 47-40, rallying back from a nine-point deficit and overcoming 25 points from Bray, who had a 32-point, 29-rebound game earlier in the season against Penn-Trafford.

Bray topped the 1,000-rebound mark for her career earlier this month.

Senior Erika Sherbondy made a driving layup with 3:22 left to give the Scotties their largest lead at 46-38. But McKeesport chipped away, attacking the rim and drawing fouls.

“Our foul shots kept us in it and we kept calm,” Sherbondy said.

Senior Laila Taylor made two free throws to close the gap to 49-47. She finished with 14 points. McKeesport had just four scorers.

Cernuto answered with two free throws of her own and Spadaro followed with two makes from the line to make it 53-48 with 15.2 seconds left.

Bray took the ball inside and went up for a lay-in, but freshman Maddie Moore swatted it away with 10.6 seconds to all but seal the victory.

“Huge block,” Pritts said. “One of the biggest plays of the game.”

Southmoreland led a back-and-forth first half, 22-20, at the break.

After a first quarter that saw five ties and five leads changes, the Scotties led the entire second quarter, but could only widen the gap to six before McKeesport’s Haley Hertzler made a 3-pointer from the wing just before halftime.

The Tigers regained the lead, at 29-28, in the third, Cernuto broke the 10th tie of the game with a bank shot at the end of the quarter to make it 34-32 in favor of the Scotties.

Southmoreland played without senior guard Carlie Collins, who missed the game with an injury. Senior Charity Henderson started in her place.

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

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