Union boys put it all together in playoff opener
Union (76) Vs. Beth-Center (58)

PITTSBURGH — The Union High boys basketball team called on its defense last night.

The unit answered for the Scotties.

Union forced 16 turnovers that led to easy baskets in pulling away for a 76-58 win over Beth-Center in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs at Northgate High School.

“I’m very happy with the way we played; it was a team effort,” Scotties coach Dave Smialowski said. “I knew this team had it in them.

“If we could put together a complete effort, this is what we could do; it’s clicking at the right time.”

Union (13-9), seeded ninth, advances to the quarterfinals to meet top-seeded Sewickley Academy (18-4) on Friday at a time and site to be determined by the WPIAL. The winner clinches a berth in the state playoffs, while the loser can move on only if the victor claims the WPIAL championship.

Eighth-seeded Beth-Center (11-11) was making its first postseason appearance since 1986. The Scotties have been in the playoffs seven of the last 10 years.

“I think being in the playoffs for the first time affected them,” Beth-Center coach Barry Niemiec said of his Bulldogs. “That experience Union had was a big difference.”

“We feel we set a foundation for the future and it’s something to build on.”

Ryne Niemiec, the coach’s son who is a senior and a California (Pa.) recruit, had a game-high 28 points. Eleven of his markers came in the first period as Beth-Center trailed just 20-15.

“We knew Niemiec was a good player,” Smialowski said. “We knew if we could limit his shots and his touches, it would increase our chances of winning.”

The Scotties went to a box-and-one defense in the second quarter to contain Niemiec, who came in with a school-best 1,521 career points.

“We were able to hit our shots in the first quarter,” Barry Niemiec said. “We knew a gimmick defense was coming and our guys on the outside didn’t hit the shots in the second quarter.”

Nick DeCesare kept the Scotties in front in the first quarter, tallying 10 of his 16 points. He also pulled down seven rebounds.

“Nick put us on his shoulders for the first quarter,” said Union’s Jason Burkes.

Union’s defense came through in the second period. The Scotties outscored the Bulldogs 23-5 in the period and they recorded five baskets in transition.

“They were just running like crazy in the second quarter; they were beating us back every possession,” Barry Niemiec said.

Burkes netted 15 of his team-high 25 points in the opening half as Union built a 43-20 lead. He was 9 of 15 from the field and he raised his career total to 940 markers.

“That (effort) came from a total team effort,” Burkes said. “Anthony (Thomas) was making shots, Nick (DeCesare) was making shots.

“Overall, we played unbelievable. This was probably the best game we’ve played all year. I thought we played basketball the way basketball is supposed to be played.”

Said Barry Niemiec, “Burkes shot the lights out. He’s one heck of a player and we had no answer for him.”

Beth-Center never threatened in the second half.

Anthony Thomas contributed 11 markers and eight assists for the Scotties, who were 29 of 66 from the floor and committed just seven turnovers.
Game Scoreboard
Union 20 23 17 16 0 76
Beth-Center 15 5 12 26 0 58
Box Scores
UNION (76)
Anthony Thomas 5 0-0 11
Jason Burkes 9 5-5 25
Matt Ault 3 1-2 8
Anthony Forletta 0 2-2 2
Nick DeCesare 6 1-2 16
Devonta Thomas 4 0-0 8
Mike Pelto 1 0-0 2
Damian Trott 1 2-2 4
Greg Respress 0 0-0 0
Andre Jones 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 29 11-13 76.

Sean Brierley 1 1-2 3
Luke Diethorn 2 0-0 4
Tyler Miller 1 1-2 3
Ryne Niemiec 9 7-9 28
Levi Whited 2 1-2 6
E.J. McCarty 1 3-3 5
Deshan Brown 2 0-0 6
Mike Bodnar 0 0-1 0
Max Bogol 0 0-1 0
Matt Sabatini 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 19 13-19 58.

UNION 20 23 17 16 — 76
BETH-CENTER 15 5 12 26 — 58

3-point goals — Union 7 (A. Thomas 1, DeCesare 3, Burkes 2, Ault 1), Beth-Center 7 (Niemiec 3, Whited 1, Brown 2, Sabatini 1).
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