Baldwin, TJ, Brentwood boys make strides during playoff seasons

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Sunday, February 20, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Here is a rundown on the 2021-22 regular season for boys basketball teams in the South Hills:

Baldwin

Baldwin junior James Wesling had a record-setting performance that was heard loud and clear around the WPIAL.

Opposing players and coaches immediately took notice.

A 6-foot-1 guard, Wesling connected for 48 points Jan. 18 in a 20-point win at Bethel Park, breaking the previous school record (42 points) established by Anthony Reid in 2017.

After scoring 19 points in the first half, Wesling had 29 after halftime and finished with seven 3-pointers against the Black Hawks.

“I was in shock, and I was super excited to have been able to break the record,” Wesling said, “but also to win the game and celebrate with my teammates. However, I don’t want that game to be the highlight of the year for Baldwin. I want there to be other goals we achieve as a team.”

Baldwin’s second-year coach, Jeff Ackermann, has experienced great success at different levels around the WPIAL. He guided Moon to three straight WPIAL championships and Pine-Richland to back-to-back district titles.

“I’ve never had anyone score 48 points before for me,” Ackermann said. “The most I can remember was when Andrew Petcash scored 35 versus Penn Hills when I was at Pine-Richland.

“We preach balance, but James was just in a zone that night. I can’t explain it. He just was so focused and wanted to attack and attack. Any time a player can score 48 points, it’s a special evening.

“But our win was not just James Wesling. It was a complete team effort. I was really proud of the way my team played. We had so many guys that played well that night, from Nate Richards to Joey Carr to Nate Wesling to A.J. Cherico to Owen Hutchinson and to Connor Gitzen. We were very locked in and my guys played very hard.”

A four-game winning streak in January against Canon-McMillan, Peters Township, Bethel Park and Seneca Valley propelled the Highlanders into a temporary four-way tie for first place in Section 2-6A.

Baldwin ended up securing a playoff berth with a third-place finish in the section. The Highlanders won three of their last four section games to end up 6-4, one game behind Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon, which shared first place with 7-3 records.

Baldwin also improved to 12-9 overall with a 64-39 win against Bethel Park in the final section game. They went 2-0 against the Black Hawks and Peters Township and logged their biggest section victory in a 54-50 decision Feb. 1 against Mt. Lebanon.

Wesling, a second-team all-section guard as a sophomore, led the Highlanders throughout.

“This season has been a great experience, and it has built a good atmosphere for Baldwin,” Wesling said. “I feel we’ve had our ups and downs this season. We played very well as a team in some games, but in other games, we didn’t perform as well.

“The students and community did a great job of cheering us on and staying by our side through the ups and downs.”

Richards, a 5-9 junior point guard, complemented Wesling in the backcourt as well as the scoring column for the Highlanders, who took a 12-10 record into the postseason. Baldwin received the No. 9 seed in Class 6A with a first-round game Feb. 22 against No. 8 North Allegheny.

“We have had so many guys step up for us this season,” Ackermann said. “Nate Richards was a constant for us. He continues to get better. Joey Carr has really been coming on, and Connor Gitzen is a three-year starter.

“Owen Hutchinson, A.J. Cherico, Nate Wesling, Jordan Brophy and Chad Cochran bring tons of energy off the bench. Evan Lavelle and Nick Petrilli are football players that have added toughness and athletic ability for us.”

Reid, a 2017 Baldwin graduate, set the previous school record with his 42-point performance Jan. 6, 2017, in a 69-36 section win at home against Upper St. Clair. His night included what is believed to be a school-record 11 treys. Reid accounted for all of his team’s first-quarter points, outscoring the visitors 19-3.

Thomas Jefferson

It’s rare that a team tips off a season with no returning starters.

But that was the situation facing veteran coach Dom DeCicco and the Thomas Jefferson basketball team in 2021-22

Heavy graduation losses from last year’s WPIAL playoff squad — seven seniors graduated — defined the Jaguars as young and inexperienced this season.

The only returning player to see significant game time in 2020-21 was Evan Berger, a 6-foot-2 sophomore guard who averaged 10 points per game. Berger scored close to 20 points per game this season.

“Considering we only had one player with any varsity experience, I’m really happy how we’ve come together late in the season,” DeCicco said. “We start three sophomores, one junior and one senior. We bring three sophomores off the bench, so any experience they get is a plus.

“To say we’ve had immense growth is an understatement. Our practices from the beginning of the year until now are like night and day. We did not know how to practice.”

Berger was joined in the backcourt by senior Joe Lekse, junior Ryan Lawry and sophomore Sean Sullivan. The trio scored close to 24 points per game between them.

The five seniors — Lekse, forward Kyler Bender, guard Jeffrey Berger, guard Ben Rubinoff and forward Adam Weidmann — served as co-captains.

The junior class was represented by Lawry and guards Dom Putignano and Cody Karcher.

Top sophomore players in the program are Berger, Sullivan, forward Elias Lippincott, guards Joe Mendyk and Noah Prosser and forwards Brody Evans and Kam Eggerton.

“Our guys want to be good,” DeCicco said, “And they are getting better every day.”

TJ is a member of Section 1-5A, which was won by Laurel Highlands, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A.

After suffering through a five-game losing skid, the Jaguars won their final three section games against Connellsville, Ringgold and West Mifflin to finish fourth at 5-5.

TJ finished the regular season with an 8-14 record and landed the No. 14 seed for the Class 5A playoffs, with a first-round game Feb. 21 against No. 3 Mars.

Brentwood

Brentwood qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for a fifth straight year, placing third in Section 4-3A behind Washington and Brownsville.

“We had a strong regular season,” coach Dan Thayer said. “We have lost a lot of players and points to graduation the past two seasons. With that loss, we really weren’t sure what type of team we would have.

“The players work very hard and give great effort in practice and games. We have used this hard work and effort to help cover some of our scoring problems. With defense and pace of play, we have a team that is fun to coach. It has also led to a team that can score in a variety of ways and can get easy opportunities.”

Brentwood’s veteran coach tries to utilize a group of players in games, rotating as many as 10 in and out of the lineup.

Brentwood’s most-experienced players this season were senior forward Mitchell Fox, senior guards Dalton Daly and Nathan Ziegler, junior guard Carter Betz and junior G/F Talan Kammermeier.

They usually were joined in a rotation that included seniors Lamarr Williams, Josh Ziegler and Brady Fest, freshman Forrest Betz, sophomore Shane Palmer and junior Tavian Miller. Williams, a senior swingman, and Betz, a freshman guard, made a solid impact for the Spartans in their first taste of varsity basketball.

“We have seen a ton of progress this season,” Thayer said. “First-year player Lamarr Williams has really improved throughout the season. Freshman Forrest Betz has really played well, and his role on the team continues to expand every day.

“Even the players that have been with us for four years really refined their game, making them so much better. This has been a season of tremendous growth for all 15 players.”

Through 20 contests, Carter Betz led the team in scoring (13.8 ppg) and steals (57). Nathan Ziegler was the top 3-point shooter and ranked second in scoring (12.4 ppg).

Fox (133), Williams and Kammermeier were the Spartans’ leading rebounders this year.

The Spartans finished first in two tournaments in December, at their own tip-off event and at a holiday classic at Northgate. Carter Betz was voted boys MVP at the Brentwood boosters’ annual tip-off tournament, and Nathan Ziegler was named to the all-tourney team.

Brentwood improved to 14-7 overall with a 73-49 nonsection win Feb. 11 at South Park. The Spartans received the No. 12 seed in Class 3A with a first-round game Feb. 21 against No. 5 South Allegheny.

“Your fate in the playoffs often lies in the matchup that you get,” Thayer said. “For our team, we are going to just play the fastest we can and try to outwork our opponent throughout the game.”

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