Late charge carries Belle Vernon past Thomas Jefferson
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Fortunate is a word that Belle Vernon coach Lisa Fairman might want to use when describing Thursday's 41-38 win over Thomas Jefferson.
But ask her how the Leopards were able to secure the victory that kept them in the mix for the Section 4-AAA championship despite some statistical oddities, and Fairman didn't mince words.
“I have no idea,” she said.
And how can you blame her.
• Star 6-foot-2 center Kaityln Slagus was held scoreless into the fourth quarter after missing all 12 of her shots.
• BV missed 21 consecutive shots from the floor spanning all but 24 seconds of two full quarters.
• The Leopards scored two points in the second quarter and four in the third.
• Thomas Jefferson senior guard Alexis Yanief scoring 26 of the Jaguars' 38 points, including the 1,000 of her career.
Belle Vernon made up for all that with a strong fourth quarter.
Slagus scored 12 of her 14 points in the final frame, including a key put back off a missed free throw in a 37-36 game with 43.7 seconds left, and Angela Sullivan's two foul shots with 6.1 seconds remaining secured Belle Vernon's victory.
The loss pushed Thomas Jefferson (10-8, 5-5) out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the section behind Ringgold (11-8, 6-5).
“My kids just played so hard,” Thomas Jefferson coach Phil Shar said. “They never gave up. I would be so disappointed if these girls don't make the playoffs.”
TJ must win its final two games (Brownsville and West Mifflin) or split them if Ringgold loses its finale to first-place Elizabeth Forward.
The victory for Belle Vernon (15-4, 8-2) likely will set up next week's finale against EF to be for a share of the section title.
“We are now one step closer to our goal,” Fairman said.
Slagus played a major role, finishing with 14 points and 16 rebounds and scored nine of Belle Vernon's final 11 points.
Thomas Jefferson was able to hold Slagus in check with a matchup zone and constant double teams.
“No matter where the ball was, we wanted to double her,” Shar said. “She just slid in there a couple of times. We knew we weren't going to shut her out the entire night. We came close.”
Belle Vernon got off to a quick start, leading 17-9 after the first quarter, but things changed after that.
The Leopards missed all 10 of their shots in the second and the first 11 in the third quarter.
“You think our defense had something to do with that?” Shar said. “We've held teams to 41, 37, 35. We are holding teams in the 30s, and don't believe everybody is shooting bad. We are playing outstanding defense, and for being small, we are holding our own.”
Belle Vernon's size finally caught up to Thomas Jefferson at a most inopportune time.
Slagus' rebound and put back off a Bria Rathway missed free throw with less than a minute left was something TJ couldn't overcome.
“We boxed out the entire game except for one time,” Shar said.
Fairman saw it a little differently.
“She just out jumped her,” Fairman said. “I wanted her aggressive on that board. That was one of the free throws we missed and it turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the game for us.”
Shar said he would've held for the final shot if his team would've grabbed the rebound.
“We would've held and told Alexis to make her magic happen,” Shar said. “And I would've liked our chances.”
Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib
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