No. 1 Latrobe survives quarterfinal scare from Bethel Park

| Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, 6:57 p.m.

With its leading scorer — a junior — in foul trouble, top-seeded Latrobe found help elsewhere to advance to the WPIAL Class AAAA boys basketball semifinals.

The Wildcats can thank their seniors for taking charge.

Senior Sean Graytok scored 23 points — five in the final minute — and senior Tom Kisick connected on three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and five for the game to help Latrobe survive a scare by No. 8 Bethel Park and beat the Black Hawks, 79-73, on Saturday at Norwin.

“You hear coaches say it all the time, but I have to say it now. That was a team effort you saw today,” Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said.

After sitting out much of the first half with three fouls, senior Ryan Soisson ignited Latrobe's second-half surge by scoring five of the Wildcats' first seven points of the third quarter.

“Tom showed some guts shooting the ball, and Ryan got into the flow once he got back in there. He's just so strong,” Wetzel said.

“I'm so proud of this team for keeping its composure like it did today. That first half was the toughest half we've seen this year. Bethel Park came out blistering.”

Wetzel also praised senior Jack Fenton, who came off the bench at various intervals to contribute several key points and rebounds while Latrobe (22-1) struggled with foul problems.

Bethel Park (17-7), which lost to Latrobe, 75-63, during the regular season, jumped on Latrobe this time and led by as many as 14 points in the first half before the Wildcats scored five straight in the final seconds of the second quarter, capped by Austin Butler's long 3-point shot at the buzzer, to trail 48-39 at the break.

“We talked about those five points at halftime,” Wetzel said. “We talked about how they could be the difference in the game.”

Bethel Park coach Josh Bears waited until after the game before telling his players about a similar past scenario when he was coaching at West Allegheny.

Bears explained his 16th-seeded Class AAA Indians were down by 14 points to Greensburg Salem and scored five near the end of the half to enter the locker room down by nine points. West Allegheny won.

“When they got those five points there at the end of the half, it certainly entered my mind,” Bears said, “but I didn't say anything at halftime.”

With the high-scoring junior Butler playing most of the fourth quarter with four fouls, Latrobe got timely 3-point shooting and clutch free throws to survive the see-saw battle.

Butler, who was averaging 27 points, added 18, and Jake Biss and Kisick had 12 apiece for Latrobe, which advances to the semifinals against fourth-seeded Pine-Richland (18-6).

Josh Duda's 24 points paced Bethel Park, which held a 48-34 lead late in the second quarter before Latrobe quickly cut it by five.

“They made the plays, especially down the stretch,” Bears said of Latrobe.

Bethel Park also continues on in the playoffs, moving to the consolation round, ineligible for a championship but still alive for a bid to the PIAA playoffs. It will play Central Catholic (15-8) on Monday.

Bethel Park's last lead came on a driving layup by Levi Metheny before a 3-pointer by Kisick put Latrobe in front for good 72-70.

After Graytok and Biss both converted a pair of free throws to give Latrobe a 76-70 advantage, Brandon Thorsen's 3-pointer pulled Bethel Park within 76-73 with 8 seconds left.

Graytok went the length of the floor for Latrobe, scored and was fouled, also hitting the free throw to seal the victory.

Jake Dixon added 18 points, and Thorsen had 17 for Bethel Park.

Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.

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