CANONSBURG – The South Fayette boys basketball team needed to turn in a complete four-quarter performance to pull off an upset against No. 4 seed Elizabeth Forward in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs Tuesday night.
Unfortunately for the Lions, they came a couple quarters short of that goal.
Elizabeth Forward started the fourth quarter with an 8-2 run, breaking open a close game and pulling away for a 47-40 victory at Canon-McMillan High School.
With the win, Elizabeth Forward (20-3) advances to the quarterfinals and will meet Uniontown.
“We started off very sloppy,” said Elizabeth Forward head coach Gerald Grayson. “We were much better defensively in the second half, but we were very careless in the first half. We threw the ball away and didn’t pay attention to assignments. We were more in tune and more focused in the second half.”
South Fayette got off to an impressive start.
Defensively, other than allowing a couple of early three-pointers, South Fayette (13-10) made the Warriors earn everything. There were few open shots for EF.
South Fayette closed the first quarter on a 9-2 run, capped by a deep three-pointer at the buzzer from Nick McKee, which gave the Lions a 17-10 lead.
Things didn’t go so easy for South Fayette to start the second quarter as the Lions started playing at a faster and uncomfortable pace, which resulted in turnovers. The turnovers allowed EF to get their transition game going.
The Warriors used an 8-2 spurt over the course of the first four minutes of the second quarter to pull to within 19-18, but Lions guard Jack Relihan made a pair of three-pointers, including one that beat the buzzer at the end of the first half, to give South Fayette a 25-19 lead at intermission.
“We were doing what we wanted to early on,” said South Fayette head coach Rich Bonnaure. “Once we fell behind by a couple of possessions, we got away from our game plan, but we had looks. A lot of shots were just in and out.”
Elizabeth Forward guard Austin Matta sparked an 11-2 run to start the third quarter, making a trio of three-pointers, the third of which gave EF their first lead of the game, 30-27, with 4:18 remaining in the quarter.
“That was the difference in the game,” said Bonnaure. “We tried to get help on him, but they had to make some tough shots to beat us, and he did.”
South Fayette got back within 36-35 by the end of the third quarter, but the Lions could never regain the lead.
The Warriors scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to extend their lead to 44-37. EF’s 6-10 center George Prota scored six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter and made things difficult for the Lions at the defensive end. Elizabeth Forward dominated the boards late in the game and forced SF into some costly turnovers down the stretch.
EF gave South Fayette opportunities to get back into the game by making only four of 14 free throws, but the Lions couldn’t make shots in the fourth quarter.
South Fayette had opportunities to make it a one possession game with less than a minute left, but Justin Watson missed a free throw and committed a late turnover.
McKee led the Lions with 12 points and Relihan had 10.
Matta led the Warriors with 12 points, all coming on four three-pointers.
“It was a weird season,” added Bonnaure. “We didn’t get the football players until Christmas. We play a tough schedule, so the record really doesn’t mean a thing. I was just proud of the effort. That’s all a coach can ask for. You’re going to win some and lose some but I’m proud of these guys.”