Belle Vernon tops Class A No. 2 Serra
Bill Cleary has lost 147 games in his 27 years at Serra Catholic.
And it would be pretty difficult to find one he minded less than Tuesday's 53-44 nonsection loss to Class AAA Belle Vernon.
That's because the veteran coach got something his No. 2-ranked Class A girls basketball team was in desperate need of: competition.
Serra (16-2) hadn't lost in almost two months and had won with ease — winning 11 games by 40 points or more during its 15-game winning streak.
There was no blowout Tuesday, and Cleary was thrilled, even if it resulted in Serra's first home loss to someone other than Vincentian in 23 games.
“Honestly, this is what we needed,” Cleary said. “We needed to play somebody who bumps us, somebody who guards us, somebody who has a hand in your face when you are shooting.
“They made us work, and that's what we needed.”
Serra played from behind almost the entire game and led for only 13 seconds. Belle Vernon (14-4) scored 12 of the final 14 points including six consecutive free throws in the last 52 seconds to put the game away.
“In close games, we have been staying calm and focused, and we haven't gotten rattled,” Belle Vernon coach Lisa Fairman said.
Belle Vernon hit 15 of 17 free throws, including 12 in a row, and did not turn over the ball in the fourth quarter.
“Your nonsection games are set up to make you better,” Fairman said. “We can both agree that this was a great game for us.”
Serra got 14 points from Megan Sieg. Danielle Dindak added 12, and Nicole Pero had 10 along with five blocks and five rebounds.
Kaitlyn Slagus had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Bria Rathway scored 15 points to lead Belle Vernon. Slagus was 11 of 13 from the foul line and scored 14 points in the second half, but the biggest contribution from the 6-foot-2 junior center came from her reputation.
Notorious for pressing the entire game, Cleary decided against it because of Slagus' ability to score easy baskets in transition.
“That was my biggest fear,” Cleary said. “We played it close to the vest and just wanted to see what happened. I guess, live and learn.”
Belle Vernon turned over the ball only 12 times.
“I thought they would press more,” Fairman said. “I have a lot of faith in my ball-handlers, and when you have guards who can break the press and a 6-2 girl underneath the hoop, you can be a little vulnerable.”
Belle Vernon started quickly, opening a 12-4 first-quarter lead on the strength of nine straight points from Rathway.
Serra was able to claw back within 23-19 by halftime and had chances to go ahead in the second half but couldn't convert the big shot.
“Dindak hit a 3-pointer and came down and had an open one,” Cleary said. “If she drills that one, I think the game might be different.”
Serra took its only lead, 42-41, on a pair of Katie Sieg free throws with 3:19 left, but Slagus answered with a short one-handed turnaround to put Belle Vernon back up.
Belle Vernon turned a pair of Serra turnovers on its next two possessions into two baskets to put away the game.
“When you have a breakdown, they make you pay for it,” Cleary said. “These are things you have to clean up if you are going to advance into March.”