With playoff pressure off, North Hills outduels Chartiers Valley

Saturday, February 10, 2024 | 12:36 AM

When Moon defeated Mars on Thursday, some of the air came out of the balloon for Friday’s meeting between North Hills (11-9) and Chartiers Valley (11-11). Before the Mars loss, the Indians-Colts game was a win-and-you’re-in contest.

However, the fact that both teams clinched a playoff spot the night before didn’t tarnish what turned into a battle for third place in Section 4-5A in a postseason atmosphere.

North Hills lost an 11-point third quarter lead and trailed by two points late but showed a lot of moxie in beating host Chartiers Valley, 78-73.

“A couple of the kids went to the Mars game,” North Hills coach Buzz Gabos said, “so the first thing I told them was everyone knows we’re in, but we prepared to win this game, so now let’s win this to be third and avoid any pigtail discussion.”

After back-to-back section titles in 2022 and 2023, North Hills looked hellbent in the first half on finishing as high as it could in a tough section.

The Indians led by two points after one quarter and bumped up their advantage to 10 by halftime with a clean first two quarters in which they committed only five turnovers.

“The pace was good, and that’s our thing. We want to play fast,” Gabos said. “I thought we played a really good half in terms of doing what we wanted. We scored 40 and only gave up 30, and I’m sorry, but when you are shooting every seven or eight seconds the way we do, you’re going to give up some points.

“The good thing was we got to the basket a lot. I think we only took four 3s in the first half. I was really happy with the first half.”

The third quarter saw two of the Indians’ top players get into foul trouble as both junior Zach Pollaro and sophomore Eric James picked up their fourth fouls before the end of the third quarter.

Turnovers also started to mount for the visitors as Chartiers Valley turned up the heat with full-court pressure and a half-court trap.

“In the second half, the pace slowed a little bit, and some of that was we had some turnovers and the guys got a little hesitant,” Gabos said. “We need to keep pushing the ball up the floor and keep attacking. They took a charge or two and that took some of our aggressiveness away.”

The Indians’ double-digit lead was cut to five by the end of the third quarter.

After North Hills scored the first four points in the fourth quarter, Chartiers Valley went on an 11-0 run and took a 59-57 lead on a Jayden Davis layup with 4:17 remaining.

Things looked bleak for the Indians when James fouled out with less than three minutes remaining when he turned the ball over and committed a foul on the other end.

The Indians’ other four starters and their bench picked up the slack down the stretch without their leading scorer.

“Logan (Johnson) grabbed a few loose balls and some big rebounds and hit a big 3 on an out of bounds play where he was the second option,” Gabos said. “Zach was really good making the free throws and just being tough down the stretch against their press and I thought both freshman (Nate Schanbacher and Jackson Long) did a great job.”

Pollaro led North Hills with 26 points, Schanbacher scored 25 points and James had 17 points before fouling out.

Chartiers Valley had one more chance following a North Hills turnover with 57 seconds left and trailing by two points, but Davis missed everything on a quick 3-point shot. The Indians got the ball back, made their free throws and picked up the road win.

“I thought down the stretch there, I know there were a couple of turnovers, but we also made them pay a bunch of times because we kept playing our game,” Gabos said. “It was a two-point game there for a while, but we kept up the pressure and scored some layups.”

Davisa, a junior, led Chartiers Valley with 26 points while sophomore Julian Semplice scored 24 points for the Colts, who fell into a fourth-place tie with Mars at 4-6 in the section.

North Hills finishes 5-5 in the section and has now won six of its last eight games.

“This section is really tough,” Gabos said “We don’t have the kind of team where we can just roll it out and go get it, but our goal was let’s just get to the playoffs and get some experience with the younger guys and see what happens.”

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