A-K Valley basketball notebook: Improved ‘D’ priority for Highlands boys

By: HSSN Staff
Thursday, January 10, 2019 | 10:57 PM

Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski had something of a Nick Saban moment last week.

Johnny Crise took off for a windmill dunk in the second quarter, a slam that brought the crowd and Crise’s teammates to celebrate. Unfortunately for the Golden Rams, they celebrated a bit too long, as Freeport inbounded the ball and raced down the floor for an easy layup.

The basket prompted a timeout from an unhappy Stoczynski, who despite Highlands’ 12-point lead at that moment let his players know just how unhappy he was — reminiscent of Saban, the football coach at powerhouse Alabama, slamming his headset after a penalty call with his team up 18 points in the Orange Bowl in late December.

“It’s definitely something we want to celebrate, but the game doesn’t stop because of a dunk,” Highlands junior Luke Cochran said after the Freeport game, an 85-68 Highlands win.

Stoczynski is trying to drive home the importance of defense to Highlands (6-4, 2-1), which followed the Freeport win with losses to Serra Catholic (82-70) and Knoch (74-59). The Golden Rams are allowing 61.7 points per game, an increase of 11 from last season, when they reached the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals.

Four players have crossed the 20-point threshold against Highlands in the last three games: Freeport’s Garret Schaffhauser (26) and Jalen Brown (24), Serra’s Khalil Smith (25) and Knoch’s Scott Fraser (33).

“That’s all guts, and they took it to us,” Stoczynski said after the Knoch loss Tuesday. “They said, let’s see if this guy can stay in front of him, and we couldn’t stay in front of anybody. They run a lot of sets, and they didn’t have to run very many tonight.”

Knoch and ‘D’

On the opposite side of the defensive spectrum lies Knoch, where shutting down opponents appears to be a school-wide basketball priority.

The Knoch girls team went into Thursday’s Section 1-4A game against Freeport allowing 38.3 points per game, third best in Class 4A behind stingy Southmoreland (34.8) and Apollo-Ridge (38.2).

“It spreads everyone out, and with our hands up, we force them to pass over us,” junior Lauren Cihonski said. “It starts to get in the opposing offense’s heads, and it’s really been working for us.”

The Knights (6-5, 4-1) limited both Apollo-Ridge and Burrell to under 30 points in their two most recent section games.

“We’re really clicking,” junior Abbey Shearer said. “It comes down to good communication and keeping up the pressure and forcing turnovers.”

The Knoch boys, meanwhile, rank second in Class 4A by allowing 48.3 points per game, behind Quaker Valley (43). The Knights (9-3, 3-0) have won their past seven games entering Friday’s Section 1-4A contest at Derry.

“Our defense should be there every game,” junior Scott Fraser said. “If our shots don’t go in, we’re playing defense.”

Close, but …

Butler star Ethan Morton had a Herculean performance Tuesday in a loss to Pine-Richland, setting a school record with 51 points.

A couple of Alle-Kiski Valley players can relate. Apollo-Ridge sophomore Keighton Reese buried 10 3-pointers in a Section 1-2A game against Summit Academy on Jan. 4, finishing with 32 points, but the Vikings lost, 71-55.

The next day, Cochran scored 44 points in Highlands’ nonsection game against Kiski Area, but the Golden Rams lost, 82-70.

Worst to first

One year is making a considerable difference for the Knoch and St. Joseph boys basketball teams.

Both the Knights and the Spartans finished in last place in their respective sections last season, but now sit atop the standings entering Friday night’s action.

Moreover, Knoch (9-3, 3-0 Section 1-4A) and St. Joseph (10-2, 4-0 Section 3-A) have surpassed their win totals from all of last season. So, too, have the boys teams at Apollo-Ridge, Kiski Area and Riverview.

On the girls side, Fox Chapel already had matched its win total from last season entering Thursday’s game at Seneca Valley. The Highlands and Valley girls also have as many wins now as they did a season ago.

Right as Wayne

Freeport is traveling to some far-off spots because of its placement in boys Section 1-4A, but the Yellowjackets at least needn’t worry about taking any wrong turns on their bus rides.

Yellowjackets coach Wayne Greiser coached at Yough from 2010-14, so he has a built-in GPS for travel from the Alle-Kiski Valley to Westmoreland County section opponents Derry, Mt. Pleasant and Yough.

“What’s funny is a lot of times the bus driver or coach would say, ‘Where are we going?’ and I’d say, ‘You’ve got to make the turn here,’” Greiser said.

Greiser will get a chance to face his old school Friday when Yough visits Freeport Area Middle School for a game.

“Some of those kids were in the elementary program when I was there,” Greiser said. “I know some of them, so it’ll be interesting.”

Michael Love contributed. Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Doug at [email protected] or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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