Upper St. Clair, Gateway open season with victories at USC tip-off tournament

Saturday, December 2, 2023 | 12:06 AM

On opening night of the new WPIAL basketball season at the Novum Upper St. Clair tip-off tournament, a couple of roundball truths were re-enforced.

Size matters and defense wins.

Host Upper St. Clair broke open a tied game at the half by outscoring Ambridge by 32 points in the second half as the Panthers cruised to an 85-53 win over the stubborn Bridgers.

“I give Ambridge a lot of credit for coming in here and playing so well in the first half and not being intimidated,” Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer said. “Quite frankly, I am so disappointed in our play. Not that we were missing shots, but our defense was just atrocious. I think we thought we were better than we are.”

USC had a big edge height-wise over Ambridge, with the combined size of the starters on each team added up giving the Panthers a 1-foot, 7-inch advantage.

However, the Bridgers came out smoking from behind the arc, hitting five 3-pointers and leading for most of the first half as the teams played to a 35-35 tie through two quarters.

“We wanted to make an effort to get it inside, but they were packing their zone, and we weren’t hitting our outside shots,” Holzer said. “We were a bigger, athletic team, and we just wore them down and things opened up.”

The Panthers took control in the third quarter, outscoring the Bridgers, 21-7.

Upper St. Clair leaned on a brotherly 1-2 punch as 6-foot-9 junior Tyler Robbins had 18 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocked shots while his little brother, 6-6 freshman Ryan Robbins, added 9 points and 6 rebounds off the bench.

In the first half, Holzer alternated the two, but in the second half, he used both at the same time to dominate underneath.

“I’m getting used to this (height advantage) myself,” Holzer said. “We have not had anything close to this size since 2003, so we’re still figuring ourselves out offensively because you have to take advantage of that size. Tyler Robbins is a really good player and his brother Ryan is a big strong kid who can score.”

Senior Christian Ito, junior Julian Dahlem and sophomore Peja Strobl all had 10 points for the Panthers.

Junior Adam Fernandez led Ambridge with 13 points while sophomore Jared Astorino scored 12 points and Julien Hubbard added 10 points.

In the first game of the night, Gateway outlasted Fox Chapel. 51-43, in overtime.

Following a tight first quarter, the Gators outscored the Foxes in the second quarter 14-5 to take an eight point lead into halftime.

Fox Chapel turned the tables in the third quarter, outscoring Gateway, 16-4, to take a four-point lead in the final quarter before the Gators rallied to tie the game at the end of regulation.

Gateway doubled up Fox Chapel in overtime 16-8 for the victory.

Gators senior Bryson Pavlik scored a game-high 15 points with seven points coming in OT. Senior Taili Thompson came off the bench to score 11 points for Gateway.

Fox Chapel was led in scoring by senior Jefferson Moorefield-Brown with 11 points.

The tournament continues Saturday, as Ambridge (0-1) will take on Fox Chapel (0-1) at 1:30 p.m. while host Upper St. Clair (1-0) battles Gateway (1-0) at 3 p.m.

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