Mt. Lebanon redeems self, downs Bethel Park
This win came a week later than Mt. Lebanon's Jordan Holmes would have liked, but it still eased the angst her team had been carrying.
“We were determined to redeem ourselves,” said Holmes, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds in Friday's 37-34 victory over Bethel Park, a matchup the Blue Devils had wanted in last weekend's WPIAL championship game that they didn't reach.
So instead, Mt. Lebanon settled for beating the recently crowned WPIAL champion in first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.
“We had this energy to take our anger out on someone,” Holmes said. “All during practice this week we were reminded of our (semifinal) loss (to Chartiers Valley), so that was kind of our motivation to keep going.”
“We were just so disappointed in ourselves from the last time we played,” Mt. Lebanon coach Dori Oldaker said. “We've been hungry ever since that night and mad at ourselves.”
A difference in disposition could have been a factor, said Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke. Mt. Lebanon (23-3) arrived at Baldwin angry and motivated. Bethel Park (23-4) was just days removed from winning the program's first WPIAL title.
“It takes a lot ... to have to come back for a tough first-round matchup,” Burke said. “I think the kids were a little bit physically and mentally drained. I think you have to get conditioned mentally to keep going as long as the season can last. Tonight, we just didn't have it. We were out of gas.”
Two steals in the final minute decided the outcome.
Tied 34-34 with 50 seconds left, Mt. Lebanon's Alex Ventrone stole the ball, was fouled and made two free throws to take a two-point lead. Holmes and Christine Ehland combined to steal the ball on Bethel Park's next possession. When Margie McCaffrey made one of two free throws with 23 seconds left, Mt. Lebanon's lead was three.
Bethel Park had three missed desperate shots in the final 11 seconds, their best being a contested 3-pointer by Megan Marecic. Marecic finished with 13 points.
It was not a showcase evening for either offense. The game's first 4:55 was scoreless until a basket by Holmes gave Mt. Lebanon a 2-0 lead. The teams combined for just 10 points in the first quarter and 25 in the first half. Mt. Lebanon led, 13-12.
Yet, during a defensive-minded game, Mt. Lebanon's strongest defender provided the offense. Holmes, a 6-foot-1 forward, had eight of her 10 points in the first half, including six consecutive during one stretch of the second quarter. Her six points — on two baskets and two free throws — turned an 8-4 deficit into a 10-8 Mt. Lebanon lead.
It had been a challenging 10 days of practice for the Blue Devils since their 31-27 loss to Chartiers Valley on Feb. 26, particularly for Holmes.
“I've been pretty hard on Jordan, but she really stepped up her game tonight,” Oldaker said. “She made some huge rebounds and put-backs. I love her to death, even though she probably thinks I hate her to death. She showed us the desire we've been looking for.”
It was one of seven lead changes. The last came during a 9-0 third-quarter run that gave Mt. Lebanon a 25-17 lead. Bethel Park rallied late to tie, with a layup by Marecic with 1:42 left, but never reclaimed the lead.
Mt. Lebanon, which won three consecutive PIAA titles from 2009-11 and was seeded first in this year's WPIAL playoffs, is trying to reach its fifth state championship game in the past six years. Rivals in Section 4, Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park had split their two regular-season meetings.
“They're probably the strongest team in the western half,” Burke said. “To have to face them in the first round was a tough matchup.”