South Xtra: Comeback vs. Lebo puts Bethel on top

HIGH SCHOOL GIRLS BASKETBALL


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Entering last Thursday's game against Mt. Lebanon, the Bethel Park girls basketball team was the stingiest in WPIAL Class AAAA.

The top-ranked squad in WPIAL Class AAAA was allowing fewer than 35 points per game, and since giving up a season-high 55 to Norwin in the third game of the season, no team had scored more than 43 points against the Black Hawks.

But with 4:01 left in the game last Thursday, Bethel Park (10-1, 4-0 in Section 4-AAAA) had already given up 54 points and the second-ranked Blue Devils led by five points.

"I thought all night [Mt. Lebanon] was driving to the hoop with a lot of success," Bethel Park coach Jonna Burke said. "Overall, I think we could have done a lot better defensively."

With the game slipping away, Burke called a timeout to give her team a breather. Black Hawks star Megan Marecic, who had a game-high 25 points, said Burke preached defense.

"Coach just said that we're still in this," Marecic said. "We just need to pick up our defense because this is not over. We knew what we needed to do."

Bethel Park did not allow another point the rest of the game, forcing a few turnovers along the way as it closed the game on an 11-0 run for a 60-54 win.

Marecic caused one of those turnovers, getting a steal and then leading the fastbreak, which she finished with an assist to Paige Kochka-Puskar for the final points of the game.

"Megan is very good at anticipating what the other team is going to do," Burke said. "She has a good sense of where the offense is going and getting into the [passing] lanes."

The Black Hawks also have two very good on-ball defenders in Harper Zimmer and Mariah Penascino. The pressure the duo was able to apply contributed to Mt. Lebanon turning the ball over six times in the fourth quarter.

And when the offense is able to get past the first line of defense, the Black Hawks have 6-footers Kochka-Puskar and Samantha Simpson inside. Marecic also has good size at 5 feet 11.

"We're tall and that can create problems for teams in the paint," Burke said. "We can change other teams' shots.

"Also, I think we're a pretty decent rebounding team, and like many, we preach limiting the other team to just one shot."

Playing stingy defense has been a theme for Bethel Park for a number of years. The Black Hawks have finished in the top five in fewest points allowed per game in WPIAL Class AAAA each of the past four seasons, including leading the class in that category during the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons.

But this season, the Bethel Park offense has also been one of the best in the class.

Entering the week, Bethel Park was averaging nearly 57 points per game, which is higher than any of the past four seasons and ranked fourth in WPIAL Class AAAA. So even when the defense isn't playing as well as usual, such as last Thursday, the Black Hawks can still win games.

"We try to hold teams around 40 points, but that doesn't always happen," Burke said. "Sometimes we can score more than our average, too."

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