By Matt Popchock
Two of the top teams in Class AAA battled in front of a crowd unusually sparse for the occasion, presumably because of the snowstorm outside that blanketed western Pennsylvania.
Inside it was a different kind of white–with a touch of green–that blanketed Ringgold.
Post-Gazette No. 2 and MSA Sports No. 1 South Fayette, aggressive on both ends of the floor, bewildered MSA’s Class AAA No. 5 with its man-to-man defense and transition offense in an 80-56 blowout of the Rams (3-1, 8-2) at South Fayette High School Tuesday night.
Senior forward and team scoring leader Mike Lamberti, who averaged 22 points per game, drained a game-high 26 on 10-of-13 shooting and ended with five rebounds, as the Lions (4-0, 9-0) gained outright possession of first place in AAA-Sec. 5. Lamberti, a Division I recruit and one of four South Fayette starters to hit double figures, got help from senior guard Pat Zedreck, who finished with 15 points, four assists, three rebounds, and Nick Elder, who added 13 points.
In addition, senior football hero Christian Brumbaugh made his first full-fledged appearance, and, playing at center, contributed 12 and grabbed a team-best 10 boards before leaving the game with four fouls.
“A lot of guys stepped up, which has been happening for us, and we just hope it keeps happening. Christian did a real good job off the boards, considering it’s his first real game back,” said South Fayette head coach Rich Bonnaure, who seemed just as excited as Lamberti to have Brumbaugh back in the mix.
“[Christian] adds another big body inside. Having those football players down low and having big bodies that can match up with the other team adds to our depth,” Lamberti added.
At first Ringgold tried to render that strong inside game irrelevant. Senior guard Andrew Stine carried the Rams with 21 points and hit the first of his four three-pointers–and the first of three in the first quarter–in the opening moments to help the Rams take a 5-2 lead.
But the more they tried to attacked the baseline, the more South Fayette’s defense settled into a groove. On the other end, the hosts took advantage of missed opportunities by Ringgold, and Lamberti’s dribble-drive cleared a path for an 11-0 run and nine first-quarter points for the senior, giving the Lions a 13-5 cushion with under 4:30 left in the period. Whenever Ringgold would chip into the lead, South Fayette would answer, and they took a 24-15 edge into the second.
Senior Zack Smith, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, along with his fellow forwards, tried fighting fire with fire. Once again, however, they couldn’t finish a lot of plays, and the Rams, as a team, struggled to handle the ball. South Fayette, whose man-to-man defense caused 14 steals, exploited that to near-perfection, as five different players scored in the quarter to help the team open up a 43-30 halftime lead.
“This is by far the most balanced team I’ve been on,” Zedreck said. “Now that we have everyone back from football, we’re all more equipped to the speed of the game.”
“We tried to keep them off-balance…mix in a few traps, mix in some pressure a little bit. These kids know that, to win championships, our base defense has to be able to stop a good team, which they are,” Bonnaure said.
“We always say our offense starts with our defense.”
Indeed, the stars continued shining in the second half, and the Lions’ transition game continued leaving the Rams in the dust. South Fayette’s speed and intensity continued to go unmatched, as it won the rebounding battle by a 32-21 count and continued to out-execute Ringgold, leading by as many as 29 in the fourth quarter.
A lot of guys helped pad that margin of victory, and it seemed like the Rams could’ve used a couple more impact players themselves. The absence of Cody Kennedy, who missed his third game due to illness, felt palpable despite the spark Derrick Fiore provided off the bench, as Stine was held to just one field goal in each of the final two periods.
“I give [Stine] a ton of credit, because he made a lot of tough shots. But they have a lot of other options, and they’re not easy to defend, so in that respect, I’m real proud of how our kids played,” Bonnaure said.
It may be their most balanced squad, as Zedreck noted, but is it the fastest?
“I do think we’re a really fast team,” Lamberti affirmed, “and depth helps with that too. We’re pressing full-court almost three-fourths of the game, but we’re running guys in and out of the game all the time, so nobody’s tired.
“We had a lot of opportunities tonight to get fast-break points, and that’s a big key for our team.”
Lamberti and the reserves continued to rack them up as the game wound down. Turnovers and easy points in the paint mounted, both of them byproducts of a level of play Ringgold, which saw its three-game win streak end, didn’t seem ready to handle.
“They were very business-like tonight. I’m real happy with how they’re coming along,” Bonnaure said.
For continuing coverage of WPIAL basketball, be sure to check back with Mr. High School Sports throughout the 2010-11 season!