After mopping up McKeesport, Bethel Park prepares for North Allegheny
By Eleanor Bailey
Jake Dixon relishes his role as the Brawny man for the Bethel Park boys’ basketball team.
“We have great shooters, but sometimes they miss. That’s what I’m here for. To get those rebounds.”
Dixon cleaned the glass 16 times and fired in a career-high 26 points as his Hawks mopped up McKeesport, 80-73, in a first-round WPIAL Quad-A playoff game at Baldwin.
“It’s awesome having four guards who can shoot and who can also go into the paint and be a threat to the defense. It’s really them. They’re working,” said Dixon. “I get the easy buckets. I’m just finishing up.”
Dixon certainly finished off the Tigers. They ended their season 14-7 overall. They shared the Section 2 title with Plum with a 10-2 record.
Now the Hawks face top-seeded North Allegheny (21-2) in a quarterfinal playoff contest set for Feb. 21 at 2:30 p.m. at North Hills. The Tigers defeated Penn-Trafford, 76-42, in their playoff opener. “NA is a very good team. They are very good at playing uptempo on both ends,” said BP head coach Ben O’Connor.
“Not to over simplify, but we need to be able to take care of the ball versus their pressure, convert back on defense and rebound. Those have been keys for us all year, but in the playoffs, those things are magnified. What team can play their style most comfortable in the playoffs has success.”
After making several adjustments after beating McKeesport in overtime earlier in the week, the Hawks responded in a big way to the pressure they faced in the first round of the playoffs.
“We played as a team,” said Dixon. “When we watched the film on our game against them (Feb. 9), you could see on film almost five individuals. This time we focused on pulling together, telling one another what to do and helping out and getting it done.”
“McKeesport is a very good team that is as athletic as ever and they came after us with tons of pressure. To be honest,” continued BP head coach Ben O’Connor, “we were ready for that. My guys had each other’s back. They did enough to win the game. That was a group of veterans out there playing.”
Last year, Bethel Park knocked off Fox Chapel in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks reached the PIAA tournament. Mascaro and Metheny played prominent roles in that journey.
But when Mascaro picked up two fouls in the first frame against McKeesport, the Hawks bonded together with Metheny and Dixon steadying the ship as they did during their football playoff run this past autumn.
“I’ve played with him all my life,” Metheny said of Dixon. “We’re best friends. It’s almost like I know where he is even if I don’t see him. There’s a lot of chemistry out there.”
Metheny and Dixon tossed in 10 and 13 tallies in the first half, but it was Bomar who staked BP to a 36-35 lead at halftime. Bomar buried the go-ahead 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“That shot by Bomar right before the half was nice,” said Dixon, who is also an all-state performer in volleyball. “We came out of halftime ready to go.”
By the end of third quarter, Dixon had the Hawks revved up. His monster dunk stretched the advantage to 54-51.
“A shot before the end of a quarter almost always deflates a team and inflates us,” said Dixon. “The dunk definitely lifted up the whole gym. I was just happy they didn’t call a travel because I heard a whistle and I thought that was what it was for. I went up to lay it in and just kept going and threw it down. But the dunk really didn’t get the team going.”
In the fourth quarter, the guards did. Duda buried a 3-pointer that provided BP a 57-55 lead it would not relinquish. BP won the fourth frame at the foul line and on easy buckets run off its patterned offense.
“I’m a dying breed of big man,” said O’Connor, who stands 6-8 and excelled at Keystone Oaks and Westminster College. “It’s a guard’s game. We have three senior guards and Levi a slash guard. They went out and made plays for us. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
O’Connor also could not put a value on Dixon’s development. He said that he and his assistant coach, both big guys, worked with their center in practices. “We battled and challenged him the last two weeks,” O’Connor said.