South Xtra: Balance, depth keep Bethel in the hunt

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The ticket to success for the Bethel Park High School boys basketball team this season has featured balance and depth.

Those are two reasons why the Black Hawks have forged an overall record of 15-4 and a Section 4-AAAA record of 10-3 following Tuesday's 59-38 section victory against Trinity on the Hillers' home court.

This is a busy week for Bethel Park as the Black Hawks also played host to Allderdice in an afternoon game on Wednesday before meeting Baldwin in the section finale on Friday and visiting McKeesport in a non-section game Saturday to close their regular-season schedule.

If Bethel Park tops Baldwin Friday at home and Mt. Lebanon defeats section leader Upper St. Clair (15-5, 11-2), the Black Hawks will share the section title with Upper St. Clair.

"These section games are a lot like playoff games," said coach Ben O'Connor, in his fifth season with the Black Hawks.

"All of the teams in the section know us very well, and all of them are well-coached. You have to bring your 'A' game and play tough."

One of those gritty games O'Connor expects from this team was played this past Friday, a 52-47 victory against Mt. Lebanon that put the Black Hawks firmly in second place, one game ahead of the Blue Devils, who are 9-4 following a 34-32 victory against Canon-McMillan Tuesday.

"One thing about us is that we have guys who can shoot from the perimeter," he said. "We have some young guys who are tall and bang around a little bit. But if we would have gotten into a football game with [Mt. Lebanon] and tried to bang around [in the paint], it would have played right into their hands.

"We can bang around a bit, but our strength is in our guard play, and we have four guys who have the green light to shoot."

Bethel Park's top offensive threat is Joe Mascaro, a 5-foot-9 junior guard who is averaging 17 points and 4.5 assists per game.

"There have been times where Joe has scored 20 or 25 points in a game, and there have been times where he's scored 10 or 12, so our balance has been extremely crucial to our team's success," O'Connor said.

He's especially pleased with the contributions of R.J. Pfeuffer, a 6-1 senior guard, who is averaging 9.5 points per game, Anthony Bomar, a 6-0 junior point guard, who is averaging 8 points and 4 assists per game, and Josh Krafczynski, a 6-4 senior guard/forward, who is averaging 9 points a game.

But that's not all. Connor said the Black Hawks' style of play requires a lot of substitution, and he's confident with using as many as 12 players in a game.

"We don't do a lot of wholesale changes, but we do sub two or three guys at a time, and we substitute a lot on every dead ball," he said. "We've been tinkering with this style of play for some time, and it makes for some very competitive practices.

"The guys stay fresh, and it keeps a lot of guys excited with our program. When we do have some injuries or some foul trouble, it doesn't hurt us as much as it might have before because we have so many guys with game experience."

The team's fast-paced approach also has produced an aggressive, up-tempo defensive style.

"We're the fourth-rated team defensively in Quad-A," he said of the team's 47.7 points allowed per game.

Only Plum (45.7), Mt. Lebanon (46.7) and Upper St. Clair (47.5) are allowing fewer points per game.

"It's our goal to keep teams under 50 points a game," he said. "If we can do that, we still have a chance to win, even if the shots aren't falling."

O'Connor said his team is not predictable defensively, and he believes it is tough to prepare a game plan against the Black Hawks.

"We do everything defensively," he said. "With us, it's pot luck. We'll go zone, press or play [man-to-man]. You will see everything when you play us, and when we play that way, it gives our kids an opportunity to win."

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