Two players set career highs in points as Belle Vernon boys rout Freeport

Thursday, March 4, 2021 | 9:42 PM

While Belle Vernon is the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class 4A bracket, the Leopards feel disrespected.

Coach Joe Salvino feels like many aren’t picking his team to win a title, and his players feel the same way. So BVA came out in Thursday’s first-round game against No. 17 Freeport as if it a point to prove.

The Leopards hope the rest of the field was paying attention.

The Leopards used a suffocating pressure defense, two career highs and three players with at least 20 points to easily dispatch of the Yellowjackets, 80-49, to advance to Monday’s quarterfinals.

“We talked about it in the locker room before the game. We wanted to come out and prove and play like the No. 1 team,” Salvino said. “It’s something that I was a little concerned about since we haven’t played in 12 days.”

The Leopards showed no signs of rust. They never trailed and pulled away midway through the first quarter.

Playing without senior Jake Haney, Salvino made a point to his team that someone had to step up.

Daniel Gordon was that guy. Gordon hit three 3-pointers and finished with 11 points in the opening quarter as the Leopards closed with a 14-2 run to take a 25-11 lead.

“We definitely wanted to make sure we came out and got this one for Jake,” Gordon said. “We’re not feeling much love, so we wanted to make sure we come out win this one for him so we can get him back.”

Gordon was one of the Leopards to set a career high, finishing with 22 points.

BVA’s pressure continued to frustrate the Yellowjackets (6-10), forcing 18 turnovers in the first half.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t let up,” Salvino said. “That’s the thing we were worried about, getting complacent. Those guys had something to prove, and it all started with our defense.”

The other career high for the Leopards came from freshman Quinton Martin. Martin scored 17 of his 25 points in the first half and finished with a double-double, getting 11 rebounds.

Early on in the season, Salvino said Martin was going to show he was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

“He’s there. I think he showed that tonight,” Salvino said. “He’s been really strong and only getting better with every game.”

Belle Vernon (12-1) continued to cruise, leading 50-26 at the half.

“You watch them on film, and you can see how fast they are,” Freeport coach Wayne Greiser said. “Then you get here, and you see them in person. They’re a lot quicker than the film can show you.”

Devin Whitlock, who finished with seven steals, was the head pest defensively for the Leopards. His steals turned into easy points, and he had no problem slicin Yellowjackets’ defense for layups.

The junior finished with 23 points and 10 assists.

“Their speed can’t be simulated,” Greiser said.

Freeport’s Cole Charlton scored the first two baskets of the third before the Leopards outscored them 18-7 the rest of the way to lead 68-36 and invoke the running clock.

“We didn’t quit, and we gave them our shot. Their pressure really caused us problems and we couldn’t get any rhythm with our offense,” Greiser said.

In the fourth, BVA opened with a 10-2 run before Salvino pulled the reins on his starters. Freeport took advantage, scoring the final eight points of the game. The Yellowjackets were led by 10 points each from Connor Holloway and Jason Kijowski.

“We’re going to use this as a learning experience,” Greiser said. “We are a team of underclassmen, and we’re going to go into this offseason with some team-building stuff and continue working hard.”

Belle Vernon will host No. 8 South Park Monday at 6 p.m. It will be the second meeting of the season for the section rivals.

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