Monday, March 31, 2014

Milchovich ready to lead Ringgold football program

I know Ringgold football fans wanted a big name to replace Matt Humbert as head football coach, but I believe Nick Milchovich is the right guy for the job. The former head coach at California, Charleroi and Peters Township was always hindered by taking over programs that needed a rebuilding effort.

That is not the case at Ringgold.

The Rams return quarterback Nico Law, junior running back Chacar Berry and an offensive line that will dominate the line of scrimmage. When I’ve asked about Milchovich around the area, the same response is floated around: great leader who will be able to attract a strong coaching staff. He is well-liked and knows the area like the back of his hand.

Those are traits that will pay dividends for Ringgold. His biggest challenge will be implementing an offense that suits the strengths of his football team and he’ll need to relate to the players the way Humbert did. His first task should be building a strong working relationship with Law, who saw Humbert as a mentor after spending countless hours watching game film with the former Rams’ coach.

It will be interesting to see if Ringgold can live up to the expectations that were built after last year’s team showed shades of brilliance during its playoff run. One thing is for certain: this team will score a lot of points on offense. Law will need to work with a new group of receivers and hopefully, won’t have to change the way he plays the game.

A new coach implementing a new offense can cause growing pains, which this Ringgold team cannot afford in a section that features Belle Vernon (coached by Humbert), Thomas Jefferson and a Trinity team that is set to improve on last year’s struggles.

I love where this program is heading. Ringgold athletic director Ron McMichael could have gone for a flashy hire, such as an assistant coach for a big time program, but chose a man that built Charleroi into a winner and who led Peters Township to the playoffs in his last season with the Indians.

Milchovich is no stranger when it comes to working with a strong quarterback. During his time with Peters Township, he helped developed Austin Hancock, who was a multi-dimensional threat for the Indians during his four years with the program. Running a multiple set offense, Milchovich has led a program to success in Quad-A’s toughest section.

During Milchovich’s time at Peters Township, it wasn’t the offense that was a cause for concern. It was a defense that missed assignments and had blown coverages against teams like Mt. Lebanon, which forced the coach to start running a 5-2 defense.

The Rams’ biggest goal over the next five months will be to become a stronger, faster football team with an emphasis in the weight room and on endurance drills. When I spoke to Milchovich just hours after he was offered the job, he pointed to strength as a key factor during his offseason conditioning program. In Class AAA, that hard work will need to pay off quickly.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Faust could be the man to lead Wash High to Palumbo

When Mark Gaither resigned as the Wash High boys basketball coach, the job immediately became the most desirable in the WPIAL. With a talented roster returning next season and a legacy of great athletes, the school has built a great reputation for athletics in Western Pennsylvania.

When Wash High athletic director Joe Nicolella was faced with finding Gaither’s replacement, he turned to a friend and former boss to take over. Ron Faust, the legendary coach who led the Prexies on a record-breaking winning streak, will return to pacing the court as Wash High’s leader this winter.

Nicolella decided to avoid looking into assistant coaches around the area and hired a defensive-minded coach who will immediately have Wash High competing for a section title in 2014-15. While the Prexies have been extremely talented offensively the last few years, they lacked the defense that is needed to compete with the top teams in Class AA.

Faust immediately changes that. With Nate Swart returning, as well as DeQuay Isbell, Wash High has the most talent returning in the section. Swart’s game poses matchup problems for opponents and Isbell has steadily gotten better. He finished as one of the leading scorers among area post players and Faust will help to develop his game on both ends of the floor.

With other players like Jon Spina, Matt Popeck and Jordan West ready to assume larger roles, it will be exciting to watch the Prexies play next season. I was skeptical once Gaither left that they would be able to find a coach that could help push the program forward. Gaither had the ability to relate to players and was a steady leader during the program’s recent playoff runs.

I’m not going to declare Wash High as the favorite to reach Palumbo, especially with Lincoln Park moving to AA and Seton-LaSalle’s ability to “find players,” but the Prexies will be vastly improved in 2014-15. They will miss the defensive play and leadership of Quorteze Levy, but Spina will help assume that role and with Popeck receiving more playing time at shooting guard; this team will score a lot of points.

It will be an adjustment for the players to go from a player-friendly coach like Gaither to Faust, who will bring discipline to the table and will demand his team embrace his pressure-heavy defensive system. Like all high school coaches, he will have to find a balance between discipline and relating to his players, but with Faust returning, look for the Prexies to possibly claim the section title.

Inclement weather, pitching woes to separate WPIAL baseball and softball teams

This week marks the official beginning of WPIAL baseball season and in a rare update, we have not exactly seen the winter weather many expected. While snow or rain have not fallen (during game time), chilly temperatures have forced the postponements of many games during the first week of the season. McGuffey head softball coach Bill Loar called into the O-R’s office last night to report his team’s score and while he was relieved to get a game in during temperatures in the low-30’s, his message echoed the sentiment of many: "We got out there, but maybe we shouldn’t have played after all."

It’s a shame that Mother Nature has bestowed upon us this unsettling weather early in the season, but this waiting game that players must endure could very well separate contenders from pretenders once the month of May rolls around. How a team reacts to the frustrations of not playing can say a lot about how they react to high-pressure situations later in the season. Last year, Canon-McMillan head coach Frank Zebrasky motivated his team through the early part of the season, which included struggles at a Myrtle Beach Tournament and postponements, with the result being a section title. It’s a shame that players are forced to simulate game situations on the hardwood floor of gymnasiums, but perfecting the art of a double play and practicing signals could make the difference between a win and a loss.
I do admit that I was surprised of the postponements over the past two days. The sun was out on Monday and our friends at Under Armour created a product that makes playing in cold weather bearable, but it’s the wind that makes playing a bad idea. The last thing a team needs is its starting pitcher getting frost bite because of the weather. While it’s difficult waiting around and hearing results of other games, players need to practice patience.

This time of the year can be terribly discouraging but only a few weeks, this weather should subside and section play will be heating up. Unfortunately for WPIAL baseball teams, the race for the section ground can be won or loss in a matter of weeks. Getting simulated reps indoors during this time will pay off once it’s time for significant games to be played.

Weather aside, the one thing that has become apparent during the first week is that pitching will separate good teams from great ones in both softball and baseball. That seems like common sense, but some teams are hanging their hopes on offense while banking on the pitching to work itself out. As the season progresses, the standings will show which teams have the pitching to play deep into the month of May. Even Canon-McMillan’s softball team, which made a historic run toward the Quad-A state title last season, has questions surrounding its pitching staff. Time will tell whether an underclassman or a JV player from last year has the ability to take the mound or circle for a playoff run.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The WPIAL's strength is not limited to football

When I took this job at the Observer-Reporter, many warned me that the excitement in Western Pennsylvania’s high school sports was limited to football season. Coming from Northeast Ohio, where LeBron James’ success at Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron dominated the sports landscape, people thought the WPIAL’s basketball could not compare to the reputation James built. Well, after covering and watching plenty of basketball this season, including WPIAL title games, I beg to differ.

I’ve had the pleasure of covering some great athletes and witnessing remarkable achievements. Yes, there is not a LeBron James in the WPIAL, but talents like that don’t come along too often. As the NCAA Tournament is reaching the round of sixteen, there are more former WPIAL players having success than ones from Ohio.

Players like Arizona’s T.J. McConnell  (Arizona) and Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane (The Patterson School) are more likely to reach NCAA greatness this season than any player hailing from the Buckeye State. That’s not bashing Ohio. I was blessed to cover some great athletes there, but WPIAL high school sports are vastly underrated. I would pit every championship team from District 7 against Ohio’s best any day and that has truly made my job a pleasure.  Lincoln Park and New Castle would claim both Ohio and Pennsylvania’s state titles, if given the chance.

When I reflect on the excitement of high school sports in the area, I remember a conversation I had with USA junior hockey gold medalist Riley Barber’s father, Don, who played in the National Hockey League. Don said it best when I asked him about amateur athletics in the Pittsburgh area: “There must be something in the water. From football to basketball, there is not a better area for high school sports.” Touché’, Don.

Anyone doubting the WPIAL’s talent in basketball should have attended the basketball championship games at the Palumbo Center. From Elijah Minnie’s reverse put back dunk to Central Valley’s historic victory over Chartiers Valley in the Class AAA title game; there was plenty of talent on display.

I still keep in touch with some Ohio-based reporters I worked with during my college years and every one has been cautiously accepting of my praise for the WPIAL. Yes, they’ve seen the football talent, but could not believe my praise for the basketball around Pittsburgh. I’ll put it this way. I covered a Mid-American Conference men’s basketball championship game at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Quicken Loans and I saw more talent at the Class A and AAA WPIAL title games than watching Akron clinch a bid to the NCAA Tournament. There are a few players for While some dismissed them because of the 44-point loss to Lincoln Park in the Class A championship game, even Monessen had a few players could play basketball at the next level if they chose to do so, but they are playing college football instead.

The talent is here and it always will be. Watching McConnell and Kane gain national attention only reinforces that; and with players like Lincoln Park’s Maverick Rowan waiting for their turn, the WPIAL’s strength in basketball is not going anywhere anytime soon.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A quick glance at WPIAL boys basketball realignment

Wash High's Nate Swart and DeQuay Isbell will benefit from
Ron Faust's return to Wash High
The WPIAL’s realignment in boys basketball does not offer any drastic changes, but some teams moving up and down classifications will affect the makeup of certain sections. Here is a look at some of the intriguing moves that took place.

Class AAAA

Two teams traded places in Section 4-AAAA and Section 5-AAA. Chartiers Valley, which reached the Class AAA WPIAL title game and will return Matty McConnell, moved to Quad-A in a section that features Canon-McMillan and Peters Township. The move makes Section 4 the most interesting in the classification with the Big Macs, Indians and Upper St. Clair returning key players in 2014. While the coaches in the section probably groaned when the move was announced, it will make for some great games this winter.

Class AAA

Trinity switched places with Chartiers Valley and with a very young roster, the Hillers are a great match for Section 5, which includes South Fayette, Montour and West Allegheny.

Waynesburg head coach Drew Schifino will surely invite his team’s move to Class AA in 2014 after just six win this season. They have moved to Section 4-AA with nature rivals such as Beth-Center, Charleroi and Brownsville.

Class AA

Section 3-AA, which was the most competitive in the classification, remained the same besides the addition of Carlynton. With Ron Faust taking over at Wash High and Seton-La Salle losing its big three (Dale Clancy, Levi Masua and Malik White, look for the Prexies to compete for the section title. I love the Faust hire because the longtime Wash High head coach focuses on defense – something the Prexies struggled with at times in 2013.

Section 4-AA lost California to Class A and gained Carmichaels, which has a strong group of underclassmen waiting for its turn and coach Don Williams is expected to return in 2014.

Another big move in Class AA, which does not involve a school in the O-R’s coverage area, is WPIAL Class A champion Lincoln Park finally moving up. Despite losing Elijah Minnie and Ryan Skovranko, Pitt recruit Maverick Rowan returns. Will the move make much of a difference after Lincoln Park rolled through Class A in 2013? I don’t think so. I’d like to see the WPIAL reevaluate where charter schools stand when it comes to enrollment figures.

Even LP head coach Mark Javens understands the large separation between his team and the rest of the WPIAL. He joked after its WPIAL championship victory over Monessen that it was going to grab dinner and return to the Palumbo Center to play the winner of the Class AAA title game for its trophy as well.

I’m not sure what formula should be used to place charter schools, but the Leopards could have won the Quad-A championship this season, which does not bode well the argument of private vs. public schools.

Class A

Besides California’s move to Section 3-A, where they will face Jefferson-Morgan (another Class AA team in 2013) and Monessen, West Greene was finally placed where it belonged – in Class A. Look for California and Jeff-Morgan to battle for the section title. Rece Henneman is returning for the Rockets and the rest of their lineup badly needed 2013 to get their feet wet, but don’t count out Monessen.

Even though the Greyhounds lose Clintell Gillaspie, Justice Rawlins, Javon Brown and Tyler Yuille; expectations won’t change for head coach Joe Salvino. Look for Justice Rice, Jaden Altomore and Lavelle Rush to take a big step forward in 2014.

Monday, March 17, 2014

South Fayette's Brumbaugh visits Temple

South Fayette QB Brett Brumbaugh
South Fayette quarterback Brett Brumbaugh visited Temple University's campus Saturday for the football program's Elite Junior Day. Brumbaugh was one of several WPIAL players who were hosted by the Owls' coaching staff and his trip to Philadelphia comes as no surprise. Temple is one of only two schools to officially offer the 6-foot-4 state championship winning quarterback a scholarship - the other is Akron.

I'm sure Temple's coaching staff is thrilled that Brumbaugh took the visit and that he has yet to receive another Division I scholarship offer this offseason. The Owls run a pro-style offense that fits Brumbaugh perfectly, but you can be sure that more scholarships are on the way after a record-breaking season that ended with the Class AA PIAA state championship.

Brumbaugh passed for a record 3,917 yards and 41 touchdowns this season; and lack of competition cannot be attributed to the eye-popping stat line. He exploited an Aliquippa defense that featured numerous Division I prospects and with the help of wide receiver Justin Watson, exposed Imhotep Charter's defense as the most overrated in the state of Pennsylvania.

During South Fayette's playoff run, I asked every opposing coach what they thought of Brumbaugh. The answer was always the same: he can make every throw and knows the offense like the back of his hand. It's no surprise. After watching his two older brothers rewrite the high school's record books, Brumbaugh entered varsity football knowing how to handle himself and what preparations were needed every week to sustain success.

If Temple ends up landing Brumbaugh, their coaching staff should throw a parade. He's the type of quarterback who can play right away and that type of player can change the atmosphere surrounding a program. My guess is that other offers will be coming sooner rather than later, and in the right situation, Brumbaugh will flourish at the next level.

I heard that Duke had shown interest following the season, and with head coach David Cutcliffe, who has developed numerous quarterbacks including Peyton Manning, I see Durham as the perfect fit for a 6-4 quarterback who has all of the tools to translate his passing prowess to Saturdays.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

WPIAL baseball teams head south for pivotal preparation

The WPIAL baseball is just getting underway and while we are a few weeks away from section play, next weekend's opening slate of games will help determine which teams will compete for a playoff spot.

Teams like Peters Township are heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to play some of the best competition in the country and as is the case with many teams, they will need to figure out their strengths and weaknesses as well as carving out roles for players. These tournaments may not hold much merit when it comes time for playoff seeding, but how a team responds to playing this competition could spark a run.

Last year, Canon-McMillan struggled at the Cal Ripken Tournament in Myrtle Beach, but they responded perfectly. The Big Macs found its strength on the mound and position players accepted their roles. The result was a section title and a push in the Class AAAA playoffs. Peters Township head coach Joe Maize praised Canon Mac's Frank Zebrasky for his ability to bring the Big Macs together. As is the case with a lot of coaches in WPIAL baseball, Maize struggled with the task of getting players to accept their roles and to put team success before individual performance.

The size of a baseball roster requires some players to see limited playing time or playing time in particular situations. Teams need to accept what it takes to battle for a section title and after the Indians missed the playoffs because of player reluctance, Maize took full blame.

"That was my fault for not getting the message across to some of the players and some of the parents the last couple of years," Maize said. "There were too many people worried about playing time issues. I try to play people as much as I can and when some weren’t playing, negative things came and you could feel it. It wasn’t a bad attitude, but sometimes when kids are sitting in the dugout pouting, that rubs off."

The lack of team-first mentality led to the Indians missing the playoffs for only the second time in 16 years. Another aspect of next weekend's tournament play that will play a pivotal role once section games begin is how coaches prepare their team for the inevitable spring weather in Western Pennsylvania. With rain expected to postpone games, teams will be forced to play three days in a row and sometimes four. How coaches juggle their starting rotation, as well as the rest of their lineup, is critical for a playoff run.

Some see these trips to Myrtle Beach or Florida as an excuse for the kids to get a nice vacation, while starting the exhibition season, but these games often say a lot about what is to come in WPIAL baseball.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Monessen's 2013-14 season is one to remember

Monessen junior Noah Rullo
Monessen’s season came to an end last night with its 69-65 defeat at the hands of Bishop Carroll (27-0). Many did not think the Greyhounds could compete with the Huskies, who have two prolific scorers and, of course, a sizeable height advantage.
Once again, there was Monessen holding its own against one of the state’s top Class A teams and through three quarters, more than held its own. The Greyhounds held a 10-point advantage with 1:10 remaining in the third quarter before Bishop Carroll went on a 22-0 run.
The Huskies’ scoring onslaught lasted over four minutes and they did not miss a shot during that span. On the other hand, Monessen could not find an answer. Instead of continuing to push the ball up the court and find the open man, the team forced three-point shots and unlike the first half, the shots did not fall.
Up until that run began, it seemed all but guaranteed that Monessen would advance to the PIAA quarterfinals. Bishop Carroll’s Marcus Lee, who was excelling on the defensive end and grabbed 14 rebounds, recorded his fourth fall at the end of the third quarter. Without Lee and with the Greyhounds’ offense truly excelling for the first time since they defeated Vincentian in the WPIAL semifinals, most thought the game was in the bag.
Bishop Carroll had other plans and front and center for the Huskies was junior guard Brandon Martinazzi, who scored a game-high 28 points and is the team’s leading scorer this season.

Martinazzi could not miss in the second half of Tuesday night’s game. He averaged over 19 points per game entering the contest and reinforced his standing as one of the best point guards in Class A.
He is truly a player you cannot ignore. When he was given the slightest room to hoist a shot, he drained it – hitting mid-range jumpers and driving to the net on the baseline.
You have to hand it to Monessen. The team is built around a group of football players who were still learning the game of basketball. Greyhounds head coach Joe Salvino believed the lack of true basketball knowledge led to the 22-0 run. His team did not need to speed up its offense, but needed to slow down and approach the game the same way for 32 minutes. Its response to the Huskies’ awakening on offense was reactionary. Instead of playing their game, the Greyhounds attempted to outrun their opponent and turned to the three-point shot.
Unfortunately for Monessen, there is little room for error against a team like Bishop Carroll, who may not have the athleticism of Lincoln Park, but are a sound group of players with state playoff experience. The season may not have ended with a state title for the Greyhounds, but this season will be one to remember for the school and the program.
No one expected them to reach the WPIAL title game, let alone the second round of the state playoffs. When the WPIAL playoffs began, I asked many people how Monessen stacked up against Vincentian. I was laughed at for believing the Greyhounds could defeat the Royals. Well, Clintell Gillaspie, Javon Brown, Justice Rawlins and a solid core of role players proved the basketball community wrong.
It’s nothing new for Monessen basketball.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Peters Township hockey prepares for PHIL semifinals

Peters Township defenseman Josef Kittelberger
Peters Township’s hockey team has not slowed down since the start of the season. The Indians (17-4) entered the Class AAA PIHL Penguins Cup Playoffs as the No. 2 seed behind Bethel Park and with a 4-1 victory over Seneca Valley last week, are preparing for the semifinals.

Peters Township will face a familiar opponent – Penn Trafford (14-8), who the Indians lost to in the regular season finale, 6-5. The loss did not come without a lack of effort. Peters Township recorded 40 shots on goal, but two goals allowed in a little over a minute during the third period led to the defeat.

It is the Warriors’ second Penguins Cup semifinal appearance in the last three years and it is no surprise. Penn Trafford defenseman Jacob Miller has been unstoppable this season with 23 goals and 31 assists during the regular season. Miller has four goals in the Warriors’ two playoff games.

“They definitely have guys who can score,” Peters Township head coach Rick Tingle said. “They quietly have become a good program. They are beating some quality teams. They beat a strong North Allegheny team and they pulled that out against the defending state champions. They definitely aren’t a team to sneeze at.”

The Indians returned the vast majority of a roster that lost in the Penguins Cup semifinals last season, including leading scorer Adam Alavi. Alavi scored two goals in the Indians’ victory over Seneca Valley. He has 20 goals and 16 assists in 18 games played this season.

Assisting Alavi in the scoring column have been Evan Opeka, who had three assists against Seneca Valley, and Jonathan Dagnal, who joined the team in late November. While the Indians have their fair share of offensive talent, Tingle believes their depth has separated them from other Class AAA teams.

Peters Township fields a second varsity squad in PIHL’s open class, uses three goaltenders and also has two freshmen teams to generate talent. The result has been a plethora of extra bodies that have contributed quality minutes.

The extra players with big game experience will help in the Indians’ quest for their first Penguins
Cup since 2005 and the program’s first since moving to Class AAA.

“I think our strength is our balance,” Tingle said. “We try to take care of our own end and we have some offensive punch. That’s where we have been the last several years. We use everyone on the team and we do that on a regular basis. We use all four lines, we have three goaltenders and that has truly helped us out.”

Tingle, who has been the head coach at Peters Township for eight years, has witnessed the steady growth of the high school hockey game. While Tingle still sees room for improvement, he believes the increasing youth hockey numbers, stemming from Sidney Crosby’s arrival in Pittsburgh and the Penguins’ Stanley Cup in 2009, will be a critical boost. His biggest concern is the increasing amount of teams in the PIHL’s Open Class, which are not eligible to compete for the Penguins Cup.

“It’s great and is going to get bigger,” Tingle said. “I think it has taken another step. There are too many teams in the open division that are legitimate high school teams. We need to make sure that we are getting everyone evolved in Penguin Cup hockey. I would like to see that happen. I would like to see more teams be there in the three classifications. Another wave of young hockey players are coming up in Western Pennsylvania and we have to be ready for it and be able to handle it the right way.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Rawlins key in Monessen's double-overtime win over Erie First

Monessen’s boys basketball team is well-aware how close they came to seeing its state championship hopes from ending at the hands of Erie First Christian Academy. The Eagles surprised the Greyhounds with their athleticism and with a strong defensive effort; EFCA almost upset Monessen in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.

The Greyhounds trailed by one point with under a minute remaining when senior forward Justice Rawlins found Javon Brown open for an easy fast break basket for two of his 18 points.

On the ensuing play, Monessen junior Noah Rullo stole the inbounds pass and set Gillaspie up for an easy layup. The Greyhounds held a three-point lead after the basket before EFCA junior guard Romeo Kabongo, who finished with a team-high 23 points, silenced the Monessen crowd with a three-pointer that tied the game with 14 seconds left.

While it was Gillaspie’s basket that gave the Greyhounds the lead, it was the play of senior Justice Rawlins that helped Monessen get back into the game.  EFCA’s 6-foot-11 center, Valentine Sangoyami, was altering shots, clogging the passing lanes, block shots and grabbing rebounds relentlessly for the first 24 minutes of Friday’s game.

The Greyhounds knew coming into the game that getting Sangoyami into foul trouble would be critical. They succeeded with the help of Rawlins, who despite being 10 inches shorter than the Nigerian big man, drove to the lane to draw personal foul calls on Sangoyami. It paid off when the 6-11 center attempted to was called for his fifth foul after attempting ot block a shot with the game tied 57-57 and only 1:36 remaining in regulation.

With Sangoyanmi out, EFCA attempted to take advantage of Rawlins size by cycling the basketball to 6-5 forward Augustine Mathias, but Rawlins forced Mathias to miss the short jumper, grabbed the rebound and found Brown open for the lay-in to take the lead.

“I knew when the game started that we had to get (Sangoyami) into foul trouble,” Rawlins said. “I kept driving to the lane and thankfully it worked.”

Monessen was trailing 27-26 at halftime when Greyhounds head coach Joe Salvino delivered a fiery speech to his team in the locker room.

“When coach came into the locker room and threw his water bottle, we knew it was time to turn it on,” Rawlins said.

  • EFCA coach Phil Gernovich admitted following the game that he thought his team had the upper hand in the first overtime when Mathias tied the game 67-67 with 1:08 remaining. Monessen took the lead 24 seconds later with a lay-up by Gillaspie.
“I thought we had it there in the first overtime,” Gernovich said. “I thought we had the upper                           hand with Augustine playing so well, but I have to hand it to Monessen, they took it to us.”

  • Tyler Yuille and Lavelle Rush returned to action for the Greyhounds in the PIAA playoff opener. Yuille was limited in the WPIAL title game with the flu and played well before fouling out in the second overtime. The 6-2 senior forward scored nine points, grabbed 10 rebounds and like Rawlins, excelled defensively despite the size advantage.

Rush missed the past three games with academic issues and returned to add Monessen’s first basket in the second overtime period, which sparked the Greyhounds pivotal 7-0 run that led to the victory.

  • Next up for Monessen is Bishop Carroll (26-0), the District 6 champions who defeated Clarion Limestone, 81-42, on Friday.  The Greyhounds and Huskies will face off on Tuesday at a site and time to be determined.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Trinity hires Shawn Gray to lead softball program

Trinity junior Olivia Gray

Trinity athletic director Bobby Jones did not have to look far for his new head softball coach. Less than two months after Mike Marino resigned from the position, Shawn Gray has been hired to lead the Hillers in 2014.

Gray, the manager of Team Pennsylvania Fast Pitch’s 16/18U team, served as a volunteer assistant under Marino last season and is the father of Trinity junior shortstop Olivia Gray, a Pitt commit.

His hiring was approved by the school board at last week’s meeting.

“With his coaching experience, both in the district and outside, both high school and travel circuit, it makes Shawn a good fit,” Jones said. “He is well-connected with softball AAU programs so he knows the competition. Shawn stood out as a perfect fit to replace Mike Marino.”

Under Marino’s guidance, the Hillers won the Section 2-AAA title and had a successful run in the WPIAL playoffs. They were eliminated in the second round by West Mifflin.

“Mike did a tremendous job restoring the success of the softball program and it was very talented team,” Jones said. “Make no mistake, Mike Marino was a tremendous coach and had a tremendous staff. Shawn was on the staff as a volunteer. Shawn has knowledge of the sport, tremendous amount of experience in college softball, fast pitch leagues and he has been at Trinity.”

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Preview of O-R basketball teams playing in state playoffs

Monessen senior Justice Rawlins
Class A Boys Basketball

7-2 Monessen (20-6) vs. 10-2 Erie First Christian (15-9), Friday at Chartiers Valley, 7:30 p.m.

After the Greyhounds’ devastating loss to Lincoln Park in the Class A WPIAL title game, they drew the PIAA’s newest boys basketball member. Erie First, which was formed in 1993, had its boys basketball team competing as a club sport until joining District 10 for the 2013 season.

Fielding a roster of foreign talent, the Eagles are an intriguing team heading into the Class A state playoffs. Much is unknown about EFCA, but that they do average an impressive 57.7 points per game and possess a weapon in the paint that few can match up against.

One week after facing an incredibly big Lincoln Park squad, when Monessen drives to the lane Friday at Chartiers Valley, senior center Olusola Sangoyami will be in the way. Standing at 6-foot-11, Sangoyami is averaging a team-high 12.8 points and 12 rebounds per game. When watching his game tape, you see an extremely athletic kid for his size. Weighing 270 pounds, it will be tough to move Sangoyami, who often collects his points on put backs and is rarely outrebounded by the opposition.

EFCA is new to the state playoffs and will likely have a smaller crowd on hand at CV. The key for the Greyhounds will be to limit the outside shooting of the Eagles’ deep roster, while getting Sangoyami into foul trouble. Outside of the big man, EFCA also has senior forward Augustine Mathias, who stands at 6-foot-6, and sophomore guard Vitally Tserger, who stands at 6-5. Once again, Monessen will match its athleticism up against a much bigger opponent, but after facing Lincoln Park, the Greyhounds and head coach Joe Salvino will find a way to combat the physically imposing competition.

Class AAA Girls Basketball

7-6 Trinity (17-7) vs. 7-2 South Park (21-5), Saturday at Moon Area High School, 5:30 p.m.

Trinity’s unexpected rise in 2013 has included the development of sophomore center Mary Dunn (12.6 ppg) and the rise of freshman guard Sierra Kotchman (12.7 ppg). The duo have been a main reason for the Hillers’ success in 2013, but another meeting against an incredibly tough South Park squad is lingering.

Trinity has lost to South Park three times this season, including the Eagles eliminating the Hillers in the WPIAL quarterfinals. South Park sophomore forward Allison McGrath is one of the best female players in Western Pennsylvania and is already garnering Division I interest with her ability to drive to the basket and excellent perimeter shooting.

Even if the Hillers fail to dethrone South Park, which won the state championship last season, it was a pivotal year for the program with the growth seen from Dunn and Kotchman. Entering the 2014 season, they will be a clear-cut contender for the Class AAA WPIAL title.

Class AA

7-6 McGuffey (20-4) vs. 6-1 Bellwood-Antis (23-3), Friday at Altoona Fieldhouse, 5 p.m.

McGuffey’s second-straight appearance in the PIAA playoffs is no surprise. Junior Sammie Weiss has been unstoppable this season and junior Rachel Czulewicz has emerged as the perfect complement. Czulewicz commands the offense and her outside shooting, mixed with Weiss’ inside game, makes the Highlanders a tough team to defend.

Unfortunately for McGuffey, they will run into a Bellwood-Antis team that lost just one senior from its state playoff team last season and is averaging 69.5 points per game. The Blue Devils have won 23 of their past 24 games.

Junior guard Ana Hollen paces BA with 16 points per game and freshman guard Karson Swogger has added 15.8 per game. The key for McGuffey will be to pressure the Blue Devils’ guards into unforced turnovers and will need a polished offensive game to overcome BA’s quick transition offense.

Class A

7-4 California (19-4) vs. 10-1 Kennedy Catholic (21-2), Saturday at Slippery Rock University, 4 p.m.

California’s girls basketball program is new to the state playoffs, while Kennedy Catholic has won its district for the 10th time in the last 14 years.

The Trojans fell in the WPIAL semifinals to Serra Catholic with unforced turnovers crippling their comeback attempt against the Eagles. They had 29 turnovers in the loss and will need to clean up the mental errors if they hope to gain the program’s first state playoff win. California has relied on a stout defense during its historic run to the WPIAL semifinals, but head coach Chris Minerd knows it will take more than that to defeat a team like Kennedy Catholic.

“We are wasting a lot of opportunities,” Minerd said. “Our defense is only going to take us so far. If you can’t score on offense, ultimately, the turnovers and missed free throws are under a microscope when you don’t score many points.”

Freshman Kylie Huffman is the Trojans’ leading scorer, but has been blanketed by multiple defenders throughout the players, which has put pressure on California’s guards to make open shots. That happened in the WPIAL quarterfinals when senior Tristen Conaway and freshman Jenna Miller combined for 32 points. They will need that type of guard play to upset the Golden Eagles on Saturday.