Belle Vernon to face hefty challenge in second-round state playoff matchup

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Monday, March 9, 2020 | 8:17 PM


Even though the Belle Vernon boys basketball team is in the second round of the PIAA tournament, coach Joe Salvino said a lot of things need to change if his team wants to see the quarterfinals.

The Leopards (20-7) will face District 3 champion Lancaster Catholic at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Altoona High School. BVA advanced with a 65-60 win over District 9 champion Clearfield on Friday. The win clinched the program’s first 20-win season since 2000-01. The Crusaders (26-4) moved into the second round by knocking off BVA rival Ringgold, 59-56, in a thriller Friday.

“I watched the game and first off, I thought Ringgold played really well and they had a chance to win in the final seconds,” Salvino said. “The challenge for us is we have to offset their size. When I first saw them, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, they’re big.’ But I thought Ringgold ended up matching up with them pretty well.”

Offsetting the size advantage won’t be easy. The Crusaders feature a starting lineup that includes 6-foot-7 David Kamwanga and 6-5, 280-pounder Trey Wells.

“The Wells kid reminds me of the kid from Mars (Michael Carmody),” Salvino said. “He’s a big kid, physical and takes up a lot of space in there. The 6-7 kid, they don’t really post him up inside. He’s going to attack from the wing. That’s where they like to get him the ball.”

Joining the two big guys in the starting lineup for the Crusaders will be Denzel Kabasele (6-2), Cal Titus (6-0) and junior David Atkinson (6-0). Kamwanga (11.5) and Atkinson (11) are the only two players averaging double figures. Kamwanga and Kabasele are cousins and came to the United States from Congo in 2016.

Coming off the bench for LC will be 5-10 junior Nevin Roman and 6-3 junior Ross Conway.

“They can bring three guys off the bench that can really score. Conway will shoot the ball from just about anywhere,” Salvino said.

Conway hit five 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 21 points against Ringgold. He’s hit 36 3-pointers this season. Atkinson and Roman each have 24.

“We have to box out and rebound the basketball,” Salvino said. “We have to play good defensively. I wasn’t real pleased with how we played defense in the last game. I think we got off to such a big lead then we stopped playing defense.

“Sometimes when you don’t score, things let down a little bit. We have to learn to pick up the intensity on defense and use that as our offense.”

BVA’s starting lineup will remain the same with 6-3 Jared Hartman and 6-4 Mitchell Pohlot being joined by 6-1 Hunter Ruokonen and 5-9 guards Jake Haney and Devin Whitlock.

Coming off the bench will be 6-2 senior Thomas Hepple and 5-11 shooter Daniel Gordon.

“We had four guys finish in double figures last game. They know we’re going to need that again,” Salvino said. “Hepple gave us a big boost off the bench and played really well. That’s going to be expected again in this game.”

While the Crusaders’ size could be a mismatch for the Leopards, BVA’s speed could give them a decided advantage.

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Salvino said. “I’m really hoping our speed and athleticism give them some matchup problems.

“For instance, I think Mitch inside is more athletic than the Wells kid. He has to have a big game for us. But we have to be able to control him so he’s not in foul trouble.”

The game is the first game of a doubleheader with Obama Academy from the City League facing District 3 runner-up Milton Hershey at 7 p.m.

“We can’t play the way we did against Clearfield,” Salvino said. “I hope we have all that cleaned up and we come out ready to play. We want to get up and down the floor. If we can do that, I think we could present a problem for them.”

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