Elizabeth Forward rides fast start to win over Belle Vernon

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 11:10 p.m.

Elizabeth Forward had an aggressive mindset when it took the floor Thursday at Belle Vernon for its Section 4-AAA finale.

That's what happens when a team gets a certifiable scare in its previous game.

Instead of taking things down to the wire like it did in an overtime win Monday against Ringgold or falling into a double-digit hole akin to the first meeting with Belle Vernon, Trib Total Media Class AAA No. 2 Elizabeth Forward (20-1, 12-0) built a 20-point halftime lead and cruised to a 51-38 victory over Belle Vernon (15-5, 9-3) to complete a season sweep of the Leopards.

“We haven't been sharp in our last couple of games, and we emphasized that we had to play better in order to advance as far as we want to advance,” Elizabeth Forward coach Sam Kosanovich said. “We told them that we want them playing their best basketball like they were playing in the championship game, and I think we did that. They were a lot sharper because they were more focused on what we were trying to accomplish.”

Elizabeth Forward likely will enter the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs as the No. 2 seed.

Considering how they fared in 2012 — the Warriors lost to eventual champion Hopewell in the quarterfinals and dropped a tough game against Hollidaysburg in the opening round of the state tournament — they certainly are hoping to have a longer run in the playoffs.

“We're definitely improved over last year, and (the question) whether or not the improvement is enough to carry us all the way through, only time will tell,” Kosanovich said. “I'm very proud of the way we've worked this season as a team.”

And it took a team effort just to contain the dominant inside play of senior forward Jessica Slagus, who scored a game-high 22 points, pulled in 16 rebounds and blocked two shots to almost singlehandedly keep Belle Vernon in the game.

“Jess has carried our offense all season for the most part,” Belle Vernon coach Lisa Fairman said. “We have a great team around her, but we couldn't drain some shots. We were just missing, and quite frankly, we had trouble with transition.”

Belle Vernon, which has locked up second place in the section and likely a top-eight seed in the playoffs, again acted out a theme to its season by committing 21 turnovers, including three in the final 1:46 of the second quarter that helped Elizabeth Forward close out the half on an 8-0 run.

“I think we just started off kind of cold offensively, and we struggled a little bit and couldn't get anything to fall,” Fairman said. “We didn't seem to be quite in sync.”

On the other side, Macy Pekula scored all nine of her points in the first half to help Elizabeth Forward jump out to a 35-15 halftime lead. Dana Buck led the team with 13, and Natalie Fekula scored 10 despite being on the bench in foul trouble for most of the game.

With Fekula limited, Olivia Barkley came off the bench and scored five of her seven points in the final 1:55 of the first quarter to help Elizabeth Forward open up a 17-6 advantage.

“We don't put emphasis on starters, and Olivia ... sometimes she comes off the bench and sometimes she starts, but whoever we bring off the bench, whether it's Barkley or (Abagail) Sporio or (Andrea) Paterra, they add a spark,” Kosanovich said. “We try to have more than one spark player, and they do a nice job of battling all the way.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kbarnes@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KBarnes_Trib.

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