BELLE VERNON — The first 99 seconds told the story as Belle Vernon routed South Park Monday night in a WPIAL Class 4A boys basketball quarterfinal game, 78-52.
That’s all the longer it took the top-seeded Leopards (13-1) to set the defensive tempo and make a statement.
“The pressure we put on them was great and we played the type of game we are capable of playing,” said Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino. “I have always been a big defensive person and have stressed defense ever since I started coaching because there will be days when the ball won’t fall.”
In that opening stretch, Belle Vernon forced four South Park (9-6) turnovers and raced out to a 9-0 lead behind five points from Daniel Gordon and four from Quinton Martin.
“We have been trying to do those types of things early so we can set the tone with what the games would be all about,” Salvino said.
The starting five of Gordon, Martin, Devin Whitlock, Tyler Kovatch and Joe Klancher played like a quintet possessed defensively early and set the tone for the game.
Belle Vernon led 19-8 after one quarter and never looked back.
The eighth-seeded Eagles, who were one of the top 3-point shooting teams in Class 4A, did not hit one until the 5:47 mark of the third quarter.
Whitlock set the tempo on offense as he finished with an unselfish 31 points, dished out seven assists and had seven steals with one of the assists being an alley-oop dunk to Martin in the third quarter.
“We pushed the momentum early and created a lead,” Whitlock said. “That opening run was big. We flipped the switch coming into the playoffs.
“We started slow in the regular season but are starting (fast) from the gate (in the playoffs).”
Gordon finished with 19 points, six rebounds and three steals despite having foul issues all game.
“Despite me getting into foul trouble, my teammates came through,” Gordon said. “We limited (South Park) from the outside and got a couple of their key players in foul trouble as well.”
Martin stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and three steals, but he focused on the team and how he will do whatever he can to help the Leopards win.
“It’s very important to me to get others involved and I love doing it,” he said. “I have to do my part and that includes hitting the boards hard.”
Kovatch added three steals for Belle Vernon, which forced the Eagles into 23 turnovers.
Belle Vernon hit nine 3-pointers with Whitlock making five, Gordon draining three and Jake Haney hitting one.
Haney, who missed the Leopards’ first-round win, finished with seven points.
Next up for Belle Vernon is fifth-seeded North Catholic (17-4), which dismantled fourth-seeded Quaker Valley, 84-56.
“When you get this far in the playoffs, you know there will be challenges,” said Salvino, who is one win away from coaching for his seventh WPIAL crown. “I focused on South Park and didn’t want to overlook them, but starting tonight, I will watch plenty of film on (North Catholic).”
North Catholic is coached by Dave DeGregorio, the brother of former BV coach Kyle DeGregorio.
“They are well-coached and will come out to play,” said Whitlock. “We will have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
“They will be coming at us,” said Gordon. “They can shoot from the perimeter and are well-coached.”
Belle Vernon will host the semifinal game Thursday with tipoff at 6 p.m.