Upper St. Clair's JJ Conn drives to the basket against Bethel Park in a WPIAL Class AAAA Section 4 game Tuesday. Upper St. Clair posted a 63-50 win.
By Brad Everett Tri-State Sports & News Service
As Upper St. Clair coach Danny Holzer emerged from a throng of a few dozen screaming students inside his team's locker room Tuesday night, a reporter asked him if that type of celebration takes place after all of his team's wins.
"Only the big ones," said Holzer, smiling.
This one certainly qualified.
Upper St. Clair pulled even with Class AAAA No. 4 Bethel Park in the race for the Section 4 title by handing the visiting Black Hawks their second defeat of the season, 63-50, in a battle of Route 19 rivals.
"This was a huge win. One of our goals is to the win the section and then maybe the WPIAL, so getting this win really helps us," said Upper St. Clair junior J.J. Conn.
It also allowed Upper St. Clair (12-3, 8-1) to avenge a 38-17 loss at Bethel Park (14-2, 8-1) Dec. 18, a game in which the Panthers played without leading scorer Jordan Grabowski. Upper St. Clair hasn't lost since. Tuesday's victory was its ninth in a row.
Conn and Grabowski were huge factors, scoring 22 and 15 points. But it was how Upper St. Clair played defensively -- specifically against Bethel Park's top post player -- that might have played an even bigger role.
Wyatt Hagerty, Bethel Park's 6-foot-11, 250-pound center, has had an impressive senior season and already has a handful of Division I scholarship offers to show for it. But Upper St. Clair did a terrific job defending Hagerty, holding him to season lows of two points and three rebounds.
When Hagerty got the ball, he was met with a double team almost immediately, often from 6-4 John Duffy and 6-2 Will Ross.
Hagerty also was plagued by foul trouble.
"I was very impressed with our defense," Holzer said. "Our guys made it very difficult for them to score down low."
Bethel Park's other main inside threat, Kenny Gilmore, was limited to just two points.
"They played tougher than us and they played better than us," said Bethel Park coach Ben O'Connor.
Bethel Park saw its six-game winning streak end. Its only other defeat was to Penn-Trafford by one point in overtime at the Shady Side Academy tournament.
The Black Hawks had defeated Upper St. Clair three times in a row.
Upper St. Clair never trailed.
The Panthers led by six at halftime and the final score represented their biggest lead.
Bethel Park pulled within six with 4:14 left, but could not get any closer because the Panthers were nearly flawless at the free-throw line in the final quarter, making 12 of 13. The Panthers made 17 of 19 overall.
"[Free-throw shooting] was the difference," said Holzer.
Conn scored 13 of his points in the second half and was 10 for 10 from the line. Grabowski, who averages a team-best 16 points per game, scored Upper St. Clair's first 11 points.
Conn and Grabowski scored Upper St. Clair's first 22 points.
Another player didn't score until there was 2:06 remaining in the first half.
"They're great," Holzer said. "Jordan Grabowski is such a gutty, tough player. He can score in so many ways. J.J. just keeps on getting better."
Joey Mascaro led Bethel Park with 18 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Cody Gilchrist chipped in 10 and Bob Huntington added 9, all on second-quarter 3-pointers.
"It's time for us to refocus," O'Connor said. "And I guarantee that will come tomorrow in practice."