Going into a pivotal Class 5A Section 2 clash against Fox Chapel, Penn Hills didn’t have time to think about seeking revenge for the teams’ first meeting earlier this season.

That’s because the defending WPIAL Class 5A champions are fighting for their playoff lives, and the Indians desperately needed a victory against the Foxes Friday night to keep their postseason chances alive. After watching an 11-point halftime lead slip away on their home court, Penn Hills senior Robert Thomas rescued the Indians with a buzzer-beating put-back in the final seconds of overtime to secure a season-saving 44-42 win.

“[Our motivation] had nothing to do with them. And they’re a great ball club, but it had everything to do with us,” said Penn Hills coach Chris Giles. “We were up double digits going into the third quarter, and Fox Chapel did what Fox Chapel does. They play extremely good defense. I think they turned us over 12 times in the third quarter, and I think we only scored 4 points. In OT, they hit a big 3, but we got stops when it mattered.

“That last possession, we had two offensive rebounds to win the game. That matters.”

A powerful 6-foot-5 forward with freakish athleticism, Thomas has been a double-double machine all season for the Indians (10-5, 3-3), and he finished with a team-high 12 points in this game — none bigger than his final 2. Of course, Thomas only had a chance to score the game-winning bucket thanks to teammate Darien Roberson, whose initial offensive rebound prolonged Penn Hills’ final possession and led to the game-winning tip-in by Thomas.

“Pretty much the same thing happened at Gateway. We were up two, Gateway missed a shot, Darien missed a blockout, and his man got it, and they tied the game,” Giles said in reference to the Indians’ overtime win Tuesday against the Gators. “Today, Darien got the rebound first, and then missed the layup, but then Robbie was there to put it in the second time. But if Darien doesn’t get that first rebound, we don’t win.”

Will Siegel led all scorers with 20 points for Fox Chapel (9-9, 4-2), which remains tied with Woodland Hills for second place in the wide-open Section 2 standings. Penn Hills now is one game behind the Foxes and Wolverines and one game ahead of Armstrong for fourth place in the section, and the Indians will need to stay hot the rest of the way in order to qualify for the WPIAL postseason tournament.

After winning four of their past five games against quality competition — including two momentum-building non-section wins against Gateway and defending WPIAL Class 6A champion Central Catholic — there’s no doubt Penn Hills is still a major threat to win it all in Class 5A. But first, the Indians need to make sure they get a ticket to the dance.

“I told our guys we’ve got the gauntlet here,” Giles said. “We’re going to play a really good Aliquippa team [next]. A championship team in football and basketball. And it will be good for our guys. We’ll see where we are as a team. Then we’ve got more section games. There’s no easy schedule.

“We’re learning how to win. We’ve got a new group. Like I told them, we’re 1-0. We got a win at Gateway, we won tonight. I just want to continue and get better and improve.”

Thomas Jefferson’s Kane Eggerton drives to the basket against Peters Township Friday at Peters Township High School. Thomas Jefferson won, 70-58, to sweep the season series. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Other boys games

• For the second time in less than a week, Hampton star Peter Kramer came up big in the clutch to lead his team to a victory against an elite opponent. Six days after sinking a game-winning free throw to take down Elijah Guillory and Moon, Kramer converted a tough go-ahead layup with 4.1 seconds remaining in overtime to lift the Talbots (14-3, 6-0) to a 61-59 win at Highlands (10-6, 3-3). The Lehigh recruit out-dueled Golden Rams senior Bradyn Foster, a Penn recruit whose half-court shot at the buzzer bounced off the front of the rim. Kramer finished with a game-high 29 points, while Jordyn Tavarez tallied 23 points for Highlands.

Known more for his exploits as a dynamic wide receiver, Vernon Settles led four players in double figures for Central Catholic with a game-high 17 points in a 63-49 win at Pine-Richland (6-9, 2-4) in Class 6A Section 1. Enzo Khalil and Payton Wehner each contributed 13 points apiece for the Vikings (10-6, 5-1), and Xxavier Thomas finished with 10. Vasile Balouris led the Rams with 15 points to go with 13 from Carson Baer.

Seneca Valley stunned Class 6A title contender Butler and kept its postseason hopes alive in the process with a 61-56 upset win at home. Tyler Pepin poured in a game-high 26 points while burying four 3-pointers for the Raiders (6-12, 2-4), who moved into a tie with Pine-Richland for fourth place in Class 6A Section 2. Donovan Carney tallied a team-leading 17 points for the Golden Tornado (14-3, 4-2) to go with 16 from Braylon Littlejohn.

Mt. Lebanon used its stifling defense to clamp down late in a tightly contested 51-46 victory against visiting Baldwin (12-4, 4-2), holding the Highlanders to only 5 points in the final quarter to preserve the win. Liam Sheely led all scorers with 17 points for the Blue Devils (14-3, 5-1), while Nate Wesling led Baldwin with 16 points.

• With the score tied going into the final quarter, Gateway managed to grind its way to a 62-55 victory at McKeesport in a matchup between the first- and last-place teams in Class 5A Section 3. Mykel Bruce-McCrommon finished with a team-high 18 points for the Gators (12-3, 5-1), while Dom Cochran led all scorers with 19 points for the Tigers (3-10, 0-6).

• Jamire Braxton led four double-digit scorers for Uniontown with a game-high 24 points, and Notorious Grooms and Kelan Milsom chipped in 17 points apiece for the Red Raiders (15-1, 6-0), who bounced back from their first loss of the season for an 89-63 win against visiting Albert Gallatin in Class 4A Section 3. Blake White finished with a team-high 22 points for the Colonials (6-8, 2-4).

• Jake Wolfe scored a game-high 27 points for Montour, and Ama Sow added 21 to go with 12 from Kaleb Platz in a 71-49 win at West Mifflin (9-7, 2-4) in Class 4A Section 4. David Fleming finished with a team-leading 22 points for the Titans. The red-hot Spartans (14-2, 5-1) have now won 14 of their past 15 games.

• Brady Sullivan led all players with 19 points along with 13 from Danny King and 10 from Carson Kane, fueling Freeport‘s 63-55 upset victory at Knoch (11-5, 4-2). The Yellowjackets (5-11, 4-2) jumped out to a 23-9 lead after the first quarter, then withstood a second-half rally by the Knights to earn a pivotal road win in the heated Class 4A Section 1 rivalry. Jackson Bauman led Knoch with 17 points in the defeat.

Derry (9-5, 4-4) eked out a narrow 51-50 victory over visiting Burrell in a crucial Class 3A Section 3 collision, led by 16 points from Nate Papuga and 15 from John Wasnick. Mackey Bennis led all scorers with 22 points, while Tucker Bitar added 12 for the Buccaneers (11-4, 6-3).

• Brady Mayo finished just under his season average of 24.6 points per game, but Beaver‘s standout junior guard still did enough to will the Bobcats (9-9, 4-4) to a 63-51 road win at Central Valley with a team-high 22 points. Isaiah Jeter led all scorers with 29 points for the Warriors (10-6, 4-4).

• Lorenzo Gardner scored a team-leading 23 points and Terrodric Williams chipped in with 14 for Monessen (13-2, 5-1) in a 74-41 victory over visiting Geibel Catholic in Class 1A Section 2. Gary Tarbuk scored a game-high 25 points for Geibel (0-18, 0-6).

Peters Township’s student section cheers on their team against Thomas Jefferson Friday at Peters Township High School. Thomas Jefferson won, 70-58, to sweep the season series. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Girls games

• Another day, another “W” for Peters Township (18-0, 9-0), which kept its perfect record intact with a 44-36 win over visiting Upper St. Clair (9-9, 3-5) to sweep the season series against their Class 6A Section 2 rivals. Natalie Wetzel led the Indians with 15 points to go with 11 from Daniela Radulovich and 10 from Gemma Walker. Meredith Huzjak finished with a game-high 17 points for the Panthers.

• Just like Peters Township, Lincoln Park has perfection on its mind, and the Leopards maintained their flawless record with a 63-39 win at West Allegheny (6-10, 0-6) in Class 5A Section 4. Maddie Syka led all scorers with 17 points for Lincoln Park (17-0, 6-0), and J’La Kizart added 15 along with 14 from Sincere Conley. Emma Ruperto finished with a team-leading 13 points for the Indians.

• Two WPIAL title hopefuls collided for a non-section showdown at Freedom, and returning Class 4A finalist Blackhawk emerged with a 67-47 victory against the Bulldogs. Alena Fusetti scored a game-high 24 points for the Cougars (15-2), and Aubree Hupp wasn’t far behind with 23. Shaye Bailey finished with a team-high 19 points for Freedom (9-9).

• Olivia Orndoff led all scorers with 16 points to power Franklin Regional to a 45-42 win at Penn Hills in Class 5A Section 1 action. Madi DeRiggi added 12 points and Toryn Fulton tacked on 10 for the Panthers (4-13, 4-5), while Egypt Coleman scored a team-high 15 points for the Indians (7-8, 4-4).

Peters Township’s Mickey Vaccarello looks to the basket against Thomas Jefferson on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024 at Peters Township High School. Thomas Jefferson won, 70-58. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Three stars

*** — Ryan Ceh, Mars. Ceh kept up his torrid scoring pace with 34 points in a Class 5A Section 4 matchup at North Hills, but the Planets came up on the losing end of a 64-57 verdict.

** — Terek Crosby, Yough. The leading scorer in the WPIAL with an average of 27 ppg, Crosby widened the gap between himself and the rest of the field with a 35-point performance in the Cougars’ 58-50 win at Waynesburg in Class 3A Section 4.

* — Joseph Roth, Ellwood City. No stranger to appearing on “Three Stars,” Roth turned in perhaps his finest individual performance yet with a school-record 51 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 blocks and 4 steals in an 82-77 loss at Mohawk in Class 3A Section 1.

Hot from deep

Players with 3 or more 3-pointers: Michael Wisniewski, Ligonier Valley, 6; Anthony Bonner, Neshannock, 4; Alena Fusetti, Blackhawk, 4; Max Hurray, North Catholic, 4; Isaiah Jeter, Central Valley, 4; Tyler Pepin, Seneca Valley, 4; Xavier Rigby, Rochester, 4; Alayna Rocco, North Catholic, 4; Nate Wesling, Baldwin, 4; Talan Anderson, Neshannock, 3; Jack Bruckner, Bethel Park, 3; Ryan Ceh, Mars, 3; Braedon Leatherman, Greensburg Salem, 3; Joseph Roth, Ellwood City, 3; Nathan Schanbacher, North Hills, 3; Stanford Webb, Indiana, 3; Zach Washington, Quaker Valley, 3; Brady Wehner, North Catholic, 3; Will Wilson, Mars, 3.

Thomas Jefferson’s Joseph Mendyk tries to get past Peters Township’s Jack Dunbar Friday night at Peters Township High School. Thomas Jefferson won, 70-58. (Emily Matthews/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Boys scores

Aliquippa 81, South Side 44

Aquinas Academy 64, Summit Academy 48

Avella 61, Western Beaver 49

Beaver 63, Central Valley 51

Belle Vernon 85, Southmoreland 73

Beth-Center 40, Carmichaels 34

Bethel Park 90, Ringgold 49

Bishop Canevin 48, Nazareth Prep 45

Brentwood 40, Steel Valley 37

Canon-McMillan 51, Norwin 47

Central Catholic 63, Pine-Richland 49

Chartiers Valley 66, West Allegheny 57

Chartiers-Houston 54, Bentworth 47

Deer Lakes 83, Blackhawk 58

Derry 51, Burrell 50

Eden Christian 59, Winchester Thurston 43

Elizabeth Forward 68, Laurel Highlands 61

Fort Cherry 71, Frazier 43

Franklin Regional 63, Penn-Trafford 58 (OT)

Freeport 61, Knoch 55

Gateway 62, McKeesport 55

Greensburg C.C. 77, Leechburg 23

Hampton 61, Highlands 59 (OT)

Hillel Academy 82, Denver Torah Academy, Colo., 31

Jefferson-Morgan 66, Mapletown 58

Kiski Area 79, Latrobe 47

Ligonier Valley 64, Apollo-Ridge 46

Lincoln Park 95, North Catholic 77

Mohawk 82, Ellwood City 77

Monessen 74, Geibel Catholic 41

Montour 71, West Mifflin 49

Mount Pleasant 48, Charleroi 40

Mt. Lebanon 51, Baldwin 46

Neshannock 77, Beaver Falls 35

North Allegheny 71, New Castle 63

North Hills 64, Mars 57

Northgate 56, Sewickley Academy 35

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart 58, Sto-Rox 42

Penn Hills 44, Fox Chapel 42 (OT)

Propel Braddock Hills 70, Propel Montour 39

Quaker Valley 63, East Allegheny 18

Riverside 50, New Brighton 26

Rochester 56, Cornell 47

Seneca Valley 61, Butler 56

Serra Catholic 72, Clairton 61

Shady Side Academy 77, Valley 46

Shaler 71, Plum 32

Shenango 69, Laurel 43

South Park 54, Keystone Oaks 49

Springdale 68, Riverview 37

The Rock School, Fla., 77, Imani Christian 52

Thomas Jefferson 70, Peters Township 58

Trinity 85, Connellsville 51

Union 78, Carlynton 54

Uniontown 89, Albert Gallatin 63

Upper St. Clair 48, Hempfield 39

Washington 64, Brownsville 39

West Greene 61, California 49

Woodland Hills 58, Armstrong 46

Yough 58, Waynesburg 50

Girls scores

Blackhawk 67, Freedom 47

Chartiers-Houston 52, Bentworth 28

Franklin Regional 45, Penn Hills 42

Kiski Area 48, Gateway 17

Lincoln Park 63, West Allegheny 39

North Catholic 69, Derry 12

North Hills 42, Shaler 36

Peters Township 44, Upper St. Clair 36

United 74, Ligonier Valley 27

Winchester Thurston 34, Ellis School 17

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.

Steve Rotstein

Steve is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at srotstein@unionprogress.com.