Thirty-four days elapsed since Steel Valley and Elizabeth Forward last met, but the memories from it lingered.
In that Dec. 13 meeting, Steel Valley led by 15 points in the third quarter before that seemingly firm lead slipped away in a loss.
Friday night, the Ironmen again found themselves ahead by double digits, but even with their head coach not on the bench, they refused to make the same mistake twice.
Behind a balanced scoring attack, the Ironmen (10-2, 5-2 Class AAA Section 4) jumped to a commanding first-half lead and held the momentum for an 82-63 victory against the visiting Warriors (13-2, 6-1 Class AAA Section 4).
"From that day, they've been looking forward to this date," Ironmen interim coach Ed Wellman said. "Elizabeth Forward's one of the best teams around, and we feel like we can play with anyone."
Forward Dominique Keyes led Steel Valley with 21 points and guard Ajan Smith added 20 while coach Shawn McCallister served a one-game suspension.
The Warriors had won 13 of their first 14 games this season utilizing a pressing man-to-man defense that helped create opportunities for a potent transition offense.
But early foul trouble undermined that plan, especially since two of the team's best players -- wing JaQuan Davidson, who has verbally committed to Pitt for football, and center George Prota -- epitomized that. Davidson picked up three fouls in the first 11 minutes, and Prota had four by halftime.
"That's basically what happened -- we got deep in foul trouble and we really couldn't play our man-to-man defense," Elizabeth Forward coach Gerald Grayson said. "But [Steel Valley] played a great game."
By the end of the third quarter, Steel Valley had attempted 25 free throws to Elizabeth Forward's six. That disparity grew in the fourth quarter, largely because the Warriors tried to extend the game by fouling.
Elizabeth Forward grabbed an early and brief 10-9 lead, but after Davidson went to the bench with his second foul, Steel Valley scored seven unanswered points. Even after he returned, the Ironmen scored the next eight points.
That 15-0 run that turned a one-point deficit into a 14-point lead, giving Steel Valley a permanent grasp of the game.
The lead grew to as many as 32 by the end of the third quarter. Elizabeth Forward made a late run in the fourth -- outscoring Steel Valley, 31-18, -- but the deficit was too much to overcome.
"From that day, we said we would be the first team to knock Elizabeth Forward off," Wellman said. "We wanted them to run the section so we could be the first ones to beat them."
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.