For the final three-and-a-half quarters, Fox Chapel and Mt. Lebanon were even on the scoreboard.
The problem for the Foxes came the first four minutes of the game, when the Blue Devils raced to a 16-point lead.
Add it all up, and Mt. Lebanon advanced to the WPIAL Class 6A boys basketball semifinals with a 56-40 victory over Fox Chapel on Saturday at Canon-McMillan.
Nothing went right for the Foxes before Zach Skrinjar reluctantly called time with just more than four minutes remaining in the first quarter and his team down by 16.
“We scrimmaged twice, and I thought our practices have been very good,” Mt. Lebanon coach Joey David said. “The first game is tough, so I was proud of them. I thought they persevered.”
Fox Chapel struggled to get into its half-court offense as Mt. Lebanon came out pressing. When the Foxes set up on the offensive end, they either missed shots or saw passes picked off and going the other way.
“I thought that was big,” Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar said of Mt. Lebanon’s fast start. “We know what they are capable of, but we don’t bank on them doing that to us. When it happened, it happened fast.”
After the timeout, the Foxes starting scoring and creating issues for the Blue Devils offense.
“I give our guys credit,” Skrinjar said. “I told them, ‘Don’t worry about the score and take one possession at a time, it’s time get stops because there’s no 10-point play.’ ”
The rest of the half, Fox Chapel tried to chip away at the deficit and went to the locker room down 32-20.
Pressure defense helped the Foxes cut the Blue Devils lead to six points on two occasions.
“Give Fox Chapel a lot of credit,” David said. “They played some pretty good defense in the third quarter that put us back on our heels a bit.”
When asked if the Blue Devils took their foot off the gas in the second half, David disagreed.
“We weren’t trying to milk the clock, we were trying to get to the rim and score,” he said. “But when you are up like that, I was yelling patience because we weren’t in any hurry to take a quick shot.”
Junior Arnold Vento led the Foxes in their opening-round win Tuesday over Seneca Valley with 20 points, but the junior was limited to seven points as his playing time was cut because of foul issues.
“Vento in foul trouble didn’t help,” Skrinjar said. “But our other guys did a good job of picking it up. But every time we would make a run, they would hit a shot and negate our push.”
Fox Chapel drops to 16-8 and needs Mt. Lebanon to win the 6A title for the Foxes to earn a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
“I like our chances there,” Skrinjar said.
Senior Ryan Kerr led the Foxes with 15 points, and junior Sam Brown chipped in 10.
Mt. Lebanon was led by senior Hayden Mitchell, who had 19 points. Junior Jake Hoffman had 11.
The Blue Devils improved to 20-3 and will face Canon-McMillan for a third time this year in the semifinals Wednesday at a site to be determined. Mt. Lebanon won by margins of 32 and 20 points earlier this season.