Building blocks in place for Baldwin basketball

Sunday, March 21, 2021 | 10:01 AM

The potential is there for a big 2021-22 season for the Baldwin boys basketball team.

Really big.

The Highlanders will have several key players back from this year’s team.

“We return the majority of our team,” said first-year coach Jeff Ackermann. “We do lose two great seniors, but I think we should be able to compete with anyone next year. That’s our goal.”

Start with the team’s centerpiece, 6-foot-7 sophomore Virgil Hall, who sat out most of this year’s schedule with an injury.

Bez Abdul, a flashy 5-10 sophomore point guard; Elijah Moore and Connor Gitzen, a pair of 6-4 forwards; and James Wesling, a sharpshooting 6-foot sophomore guard; saw considerable playing time this season. So did Nick Petrilli and Jordan Brophy, both 6-2 junior forwards; Joey Carr, a 5-11 sophomore guard; Evan Lavelle, an athletic 6-3 junior forward; and Nate Richards, a 5-7 freshman point guard.

Add to that a group of reserves aiming to make an impact and next season appears to have unlimited potential for the Highlanders. That group includes junior guards Chad Cochran and Obi Abdul, junior forward Owen Hutchinson, sophomore guards A.J. Cherico, Jake Manning and Matt Frye, plus sophomore forwards Christian Forgacs and Lou Panza.

“Our JV team won their last eight games,” Ackermann said.

The Highlanders will be tall and talented in 2021-22 and could be a force in the WPIAL. Two players they will miss are seniors Joey Starzynski and Connor Lavelle, who will continue their athletic careers at LaRoche (basketball) and Lehigh (football), respectively.

The Highlanders were hampered by injuries this season, leading to a 6-13 record and WPIAL first-round exit in Class 6A.

“My first year (at Baldwin) was frustrating because of all the injuries we endured,” Ackermann said. “However, we just didn’t play well enough or consistent enough to be a winning team.

“The kids were absolutely great and the community was super supportive. I think we made some strides forward, but we have a lot more improvement to make before we can be a top team.”

Retooling ahead for girls team

Baldwin’s girls team was senior-driven this season, so a rebuilding effort appears to be in order for 2021-22.

Junior guard Morgan Altavilla was a top player on this year’s squad and should only improve with another year of experience. She will take on an even more prominent role on the team for her senior season.

Altavilla comes from an athletic family. Her brothers Doug (QB) and Nick (WR) were three-sport standouts at Baldwin who went on to highly successful football careers at Mercyhurst.

Doug Altavilla is the all-time leading passer in both Mercyhurst and Baldwin football history.

A tireless backcourt player, Morgan Altavilla was joined in the lineup at times this year by sophomore guard Bri Swailes, freshman guards Katie Lucarelli and Mallory Mezeivtch and sophomore guard/forward Gianna Schoebb.

“We have a lot of good athletes coming back including captain Morgan Altavilla, who I believe will be a top-five player in WPIAL next year,” coach Jamal Woodson said. “The players now know what to expect coming into the season and are buying into what we have been teaching them.”

Behind a solid senior class consisting at season’s end of forwards Meghan Dryburgh and Kayla Radomsky and guards Anna Lucarelli, Sydney Carr and Taylor Walker, Baldwin finished 9-8 overall and advanced to the WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinal round.

“As a first-year coach here at Baldwin, there were ups and downs,” Woodson said. “We had a winning regular-season record, but we left too many games on the table that should have been wins.

“I am more than confident that next year as a team, we will not make the same mistakes as we did this year. We win as a team and we lose as a team.”

The Baldwin girls won games four in a row, including a 46-43 victory against Penn-Trafford in the first round of the playoffs, before falling to No. 1 seed North Allegheny, 59-39, in the quarterfinals.

“One of our favorite wins was the first playoff game,” Woodson said. “It was the team’s first WPIAL (playoff) win since 2015, and I absolutely loved seeing all the smiles on girls’ faces, the hugs and the cheerful screams after we won.”


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