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Section-leading Belle Vernon too much for Thomas Jefferson girls

| Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Belle Vernon's Kaitlyn Slagus (50) passes in the second quarter, against Thomas Jefferson's Haley Kutscher (1) at Belle Vernon Area High School on Monday January,6 2014.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Talib Zanna dunks against Maryland in the second half Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.

He is still wearing that signature sweater.

He still drifts onto the court shouting instructions to his team at the top of his lungs.

He still has that unique sense of humor.

Even though Phil Shar still looks a little out of place wearing the black and gold of Thomas Jefferson after spending two decades at rival West Mifflin, the veteran coach of 405 wins knows his current team isn't far off from being comparable to some of his former teams.

However, Monday's Section 4-AAA game at Belle Vernon showed Shar he still has some work to do.

Two long stretches of offensive struggles were too much for Thomas Jefferson to overcome — that, and BVA's Kaitlyn Slagus — as the Jaguars' three-game winning streak was snapped with a 47-39 loss at Belle Vernon.

The win moved Belle Vernon (8-1, 3-0) on top of the section standings with idle Elizabeth Forward (8-1, 3-0). The two meet next week at Belle Vernon.

Thomas Jefferson (7-4, 2-2) remains entrenched in the fourth and final playoff spot in the section.

“My girls played hard,” Shar said. “My young ladies are improving at a tremendous rate. It is just a matter if we can get there fast enough. We are playing everybody tough, but we are just a little bit away.”

Thomas Jefferson had no answer for Slagus — a 6-foot-2 junior forward — all night.

Slagus scored a game-high 17 points while grabbing 26 rebounds.

“Twenty-six? I thought she had 25,” quipped Shar. “We tried junk defenses that didn't work too well. She's good. She's just too big.”

Teammate Bria Rathway added 13 points, and TJ got 10 points from Alexis Yanief and nine from Haley Zoglmann.

“I knew coming into this game and most every game that Kaitlyn is going to see a double team,” Belle Vernon coach Lisa Fairman said. “We have really good outside shooters and realistically, it opens it up for us. I told our guards to keep shooting. They are great shooters. Keep the confidence high, and let them fly. Kaityln was there to clean up some of those missed shots.”

Slagus had six offensive rebounds that led to easy points.

“They made easy shots, and we missed so many easy shots,” Shar said. “If we would've made our easy shots, this might've been a different story.”

Despite both teams struggling offensively, Belle Vernon put together an 8-0 run over the final two minutes of the first half to extend its lead to 23-16 at the half and then a 7-2 run to start the second half to open a double-digit advantage.

“We don't play 32 minutes,” Shar said. “We play like 26. No, I am not used to losing, but I feel confident that things are going to happen.”

Fairman, who lives in the West Jefferson Hills School District and whose daughter, Alysa, plays for TJ, said it is still nice to see her hometown team.

“I have been here long enough, but I guess there is always a little extra emotion,” Fairman said. “It is just another game. It wasn't executed to perfection offensively, but like I told the girls, you battled through adversity and got the win.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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