Southmoreland seizes control of Section 3-4A with win against Belle Vernon

Friday, January 28, 2022 | 12:50 AM

The road to then Section 3-4A title again will travel through Alverton after the Southmoreland girls pulled away from Belle Vernon on Thursday night.

The Scotties control their destiny in the section thanks to a 61-51 win over the Leopards after pulling away in the fourth quarter.

Southmoreland’s win avenged a 52-40 loss at the Leopards’ gym Jan. 3.

“The girls were harder on themselves after that loss. Losing is something they don’t like to do, and they don’t want to feel that way again,” Scotties coach Amber Cernuto said.

Olivia Cernuto poured in a game-high 21 points and pulled down eight rebounds to lift the Scotties (13-2, 7-1) to their eighth straight win.

“Olivia took that loss personally. She knew she could play better, and she came out with something to prove tonight,” Amber Cernuto said. “They all did. Last game, we were terrible on the boards. That wasn’t the case tonight.”

Cernuto scored 12 points in the second half, including 10 in the fourth quarter. She hit all six of her free throws in the final two minutes.

“Free throws are something we continue to work on day in and day out,” Amber Cernuto said. “Those are easy buckets, easy points. Our free throw shooting was critical late and allowed us to finally pull away.”

Fouls caught up to the Leopards in the second half. They were whistled for seven fouls before the Scotties were called for their first. When it came down to crunch time, Southmoreland hit the double bonus after BVA was called for their 10th of the half, compared to only two fouls for the Scotties.

The Leopards trailed 38-37 after three and finally took their first lead since the first quarter when Viva Kreis hit her fourth 3-pointer. Their were four lead changes over the next 212 minutes as Jenna Dawson hit a three with 6 minutes, 4 seconds remaining to give BVA (13-4, 7-2) a 45-42 advantage.

That was the last lead they held as the Scotties outscored the Leopards, 19-3, over a span of 4:45. The run consisted of 11 points from the free-throw line. It included a technical foul called against Kreis immediately after a foul call against Farrah Reader on Maddie Moore.

“That technical played a big part of it. I couldn’t believe they called it. It was a tough foul and a tough time to make that call,” BVA coach Kaitlyn Slagus said. “That took it from a four-point game to eight with less than a minute to go.”

The Leopards led 8-7 just three minutes into the game, but Southmoreland took control with a 12-1 run to lead 19-9.

A Presleigh Colditz bucket and a Reader layup made it 19-13 at the end of the first.

A pair of threes by Kreis fueled an 8-0 run to tie the score 21-21, but as they did all night, the Scotties answered, this time with a 7-0 spurt.

“Belle Vernon has a great team. These girls all know each other, and we know they can all shoot, drive to the hoop and score,” Amber Cernuto said. “No lead was going to be safe until we got inside that final minute.”

Turnovers were key, especially in the first three quarters as the Leopards committed 17 over the first 24 minutes.

“Those were a factor, and they were a lot more physical inside,” Slagus said. “The first game against them, we did a good job of keeping them out of the paint. They attacked hard and kept taking it strong to the hoop and had some second-chance opportunities they cashed in on.”

Colditz was able to bank in a 3-pointer, and Kreis hit a jumper to make it 28-26 at the half.

Southmoreland built the lead back up to 36-30 with five minutes left in the third, but the Leopards responded with a Dawson three, Reader inside and a Kaci Bitonti putback to help them make it a 38-37 game at the end of three.

“I’m proud of the way we battled back. We had to do it a lot,” Slagus said. “The girls never hung their head. The thing now is we need to be focused and rebound Monday against Ligonier Valley. There’s still a lot to play for. We need to get that No. 2 spot in the standings. We’ll refocus at practice and talk through this one, then we’ll get right back at it.”

Reader finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds for BVA, and Gracie Spadaro (14) and Delaynie Morvosh (10) hit double figures for the Scotties.

The Scotties will have games against Indiana (nonsection) and travel to West Mifflin before hosting Elizabeth Forward next Thursday with the section possibly on the line.

“Every game is a big game for us,” Amber Cernuto said. “We have to be ready to take everyone’s best shot.”

Notes: Kreis tied her career high with five 3-pointers. … Tessa Rodriguez dished out 10 assists and grabbed 6 rebounds for Belle Vernon. … The Scotties finished 16 of 20 from the line.

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