Southmoreland girls use defense to fend off Belle Vernon

Thursday, January 28, 2021 | 9:46 PM

Southmoreland doesn’t have a true rival in girls basketball. Belle Vernon might be the closest thing.

“It’s always rough when he play here,” Southmoreland junior forward Gracie Spadaro said about Belle Vernon’s gym.

Fourth-ranked Southmoreland wasn’t itself in the early going Thursday night as it struggled to run offensive sets, missed shots and turned the ball over in a generally sloppy first half that left much to be desired.

It clearly took the Scotties a while to get comfortable in another tough road test.

Fortunately for them, their post players came to the rescue in the second half and their hallmark defense held strong on the way to a 48-34 win over the Leopards in Section 3-4A.

It was just the second road win of the season for Southmoreland (6-2, 5-1).

“In the first quarter, we were anxious,” Scotties coach Amber Cernuto said. “We came in with intensity, but I think it got the best of our girls. Our girls get up for this game. We were more patient on offense (in the second half), and we were able to put it all together.”

Southmoreland began the night with a half-game lead over Belle Vernon and West Mifflin in the section standings. With more big games looming against West Mifflin (Monday) and Elizabeth Forward (next Thursday), the Scotties passed the first of three tests.

Southmoreland, which made only 15 of 26 free throws, had 31 points in the second half after producing just 17 by halftime. Defense was the catalyst for the returning WPIAL runner-up last season when the Scotties made a thrilling postseason run, and it was a key Thursday.

“We were sloppy and nervous,” said the 5-foot-11 Spadaro, who had a game-high 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. “It took us some time to get into the game and focus. I think this was the first time all season where we clicked. It was our best second half.”

The Scotties came in allowing just 29.6 points, and the lane-clogging unit forced Belle Vernon to shoot from the perimeter. The Leopards (5-3, 3-2) did not make a field goal in the second quarter and trailed 17-8 at the half.

“We struggled,” Belle Vernon coach Kaitlyn Slagus said. “We were getting to the basket, it seemed, but the shots weren’t falling at all. We gave them way too many chances. We came out jittery.”

Belle Vernon, which had won four straight, played the Scotties tough on their home floor last season, going hoop-for-hoop with the visitors before falling 58-50.

Sophomore Maddie Moore, also a 5-11 forward, pulled down 15 rebounds this time as the Scotties outrebounded a smaller Leopards team 44-24. Moore converted back-to-back and-one plays early in the third quarter to put the Scotties ahead 28-12.

Cernuto credited her “bigs” in the big win.

Spadaro, the reigning Westmoreland Tribune-Review Player of the Year, had 13 points in the second half. She scored eight in the third, including seven straight to up the margin to 37-17.

Moore finished with eight points, all after halftime.

“We have confidence in Maddie,” Cernuto said. “We want her to do that more.”

Sophomore point guard Olivia Cernuto added 12 points, and junior Delaynie Morvosh had 10 for the Scotties.

Belle Vernon outscored the Scotties, 17-15, in the fourth, but the damage had been done and the lead never fell below double digits in the second half.

“I was hoping we’d come out better and (momentum) would carry over from our win against Uniontown,” Slagus said. “We have to get more cohesion.”

The Leopards have been stingy on defense themselves, allowing just 34.9 points before Thursday’s game.

“We need to score more points,” Slagus said.

Senior guard Taylor Rodriguez fouled out with 13 points for Belle Vernon, and sophomore Viva Kreis added 10. Five of the Leopards’ 11 field goals were 3-pointers.

The Scotties, who set the standard in the program last season with a 25-2 record, a WPIAL runner-up finish and their first PIAA playoff win, are trying to do their best impression of that historic team, but it hasn’t been easy.

Both of their losses this season have come on the road.

They have a 26-game unbeaten streak at home, where they’re winning by an average of 27 points. But they lost at Class 5A No. 3 Thomas Jefferson (44-36) and at West Mifflin (36-35), the latter of which will make for an intriguing rematch.

“Hopefully we can carry the momentum over (into Monday),” Spadaro said.

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

Tags: ,

More Basketball

Standout sophomores have Yough boys basketball team ready to compete
Upsized roster boosts enthusiasm in Valley girls basketball program
Yough girls look to build on last year’s success
Trib HSSN 2021-22 WPIAL Class 4A girls basketball preseason breakdown
Trib HSSN 2021-22 WPIAL Class 4A boys basketball preseason breakdown

click me