After nearly reaching WPIAL finals, Leechburg boys again have high expectations

Wednesday, December 1, 2021 | 1:10 PM

Just 31 seconds.

That’s all that stood between the Leechburg boys basketball team and a trip to the WPIAL finals last season.

The Blue Devils were down by one to Rochester and inbounded beneath their hoop. Ultimately, the Rams stole a loose ball and held on for a 58-55 victory.

Now, however, Leechburg feels it has what it takes to make up that final 31-second sequence this year.

But first, coach Damian Davies had to answer a question that hadn’t been posed for more than 30 years: What was it like to have Leechburg athletes report late to basketball camp because the football and soccer teams made the playoffs?

“I was really happy for them,” Davies said of the recent successes. “We have a lot of Leechburg kids put a lot of time in. It’s a special group of players, good kids in the school. We could have had a lot more open gyms in the fall, but they have good energy and we’re glad to have them back.”

Compared to last year when the covid crisis hampered preparation for the season, Davies feels the team is in good shape despite the late arrivals.

“We’re already ahead, that’s the theme everybody’s been saying,” Davies said. “Everybody’s either a starter on the football team or on the soccer team. They’re ready to go. It’s a nice transition, and we’re into the flow of it.”

Leechburg has to replace its only graduated starter and leading scorer, Dylan Cook, who averaged about 21 points.

Back are starters Eli Rich, Braylan Lovelace, Ashton Redmond and the coach’s son, Dane Davies. The Blue Devils also will be strong off the bench.

“We have Owen McDermott, he played a ton, and Marcus Cleveland will be our point guard,” Davies said. “We also have Tyler Foley, whom you heard about a lot in football, and Devaughn Knight. So I think we go eight solid. We have a lot of chemistry.”

Rich is set to succeed on the hardwood.

“We’re doing good, but it was weird being two weeks later here than usual,” the 6-foot-5 senior said. “We’re getting back into it and starting to feel good.”

Leechburg is trying to install a hard, man-for-man defense to counter the strong talent in Section 3-A that includes Imani Christian, Aquinas Academy, St. Joseph, Eden Christian, Propel Andrew Street and The Neighborhood Academy.

“We were one shot away from going to the WPIAL championship. It’s crazy to think about,” Damian Davies said. “But everybody’s very confident.”

“It’s all part of being one team,” Rich said. “If we all work as one, I hope we can go a step farther than last year. The Rochester game is still in back of our minds, but we’re going to push for the championship this year.”

Leechburg begins the season by hosting a tip-off tournament starting Dec. 10 against Nazareth Prep. Apollo-Ridge and River Valley, the new Saltsburg-Blairsville merger, are also in the field.

Leechburg boys at a glance

Coach: Damian Davies

Last year’s record: 8-5 (6-3 in Section 3-A).

Returning starters: Braylan Lovelace (Jr., G), Eli Rich (Sr., F), Dane Davies (Sr., G), Ashton Redmond (Jr., F)

Top newcomers: Marcus Cleveland (Jr., G), Owen McDermott (Jr., G), Devaughn Knight (Sr., F), Tyler Foley (Jr., F)


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