Mt. Lebanon's defense returns in victory over Bethel Park
When Mt. Lebanon played Bethel Park on Jan. 3, it allowed a season-high 60 points.
That type of production from an opponent is rarer even than a Blue Devils' loss in section play. In the rematch Monday night, Mt. Lebanon's stifling defense was back — and so was its winning way.
Alex Ventrone had 11 points and Christine Ehland 10 as the WPIAL Class AAAA No. 2-ranked Blue Devils snapped visiting No. 1 Bethel Park's 15-game winning streak, 49-35.
“We came out really strong on defense,” Ventrone said. “We were trying to fluster them, and I definitely think we got in their heads, and they were not able to play like they usually do.”
Bethel Park came in averaging 54.8 points, third most in WPIAL Class AAAA. The 35 points was a season low the Black Hawks (16-2, 9-1 Section 4), which hadn't lost since the second game of the season more than seven weeks ago.
“Their defense is always outstanding, and it certainly was tonight,” Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke said. “We struggled to get open looks, that's for sure.”
Plagued by early foul trouble — she picked up her third less than a minute into the second quarter — Black Hawks star junior guard Megan Marecic was limited to four points until adding 10 more during the fourth quarter.
“We just know that if you cut her off, you cut most of their team off,” Ventrone said. “So we were just focusing on playing good straight-up man-to-man, especially on her.”
Over the course of its first four possessions, Bethel Park committed two turnovers and had a shot blocked. The Black Hawks shot poorly in the first half but took their only lead of the game, 10-9, after an 8-2 run late in the first quarter.
But Mt. Lebanon (17-2, 8-1) scored 10 of the next 12 points to take a 19-12 lead. The Blue Devils led, 21-14, at halftime, and extended their lead to as many as 17.
Bethel Park's last gasp came when Marecic hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions early in the fourth quarter. But the Black Hawks could pull no closer than 37-27 with 5:08 to play.
“They killed us on the boards and outhustled us in the first half, but in the second half, we did a much better job getting rebounds and in playing defense,” Blue Devils coach Dori Oldaker said.
The Black Hawks' Jan. 3 home win in the series was significant because it ended Mt. Lebanon's winning streak in section play at 25. It also was Bethel Park's first victory over their rivals from just north on Washington Road since Feb. 5, 2007, a span of 12 games.
Having won three of the past four WPIAL and PIAA titles, the Blue Devils' reasserted themselves as queens of the Section 4 hill — for now. A game at No. 3 Chartiers Valley looms Thursday.
“The section's the section — it's been tough for a decade,” Oldaker said. “It prepares us for the playoffs whether we win it or not.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.