Carlynton boys move forward having learned from late-season losses

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Sunday, April 11, 2021 | 11:01 AM


It had been an outstanding season for the Carlynton boys basketball team as the Cougars prepared to play Sto-Rox in the de facto Section 2-2A title game.

The Cougars were tied for first place in the section with the Vikings at 8-1 and were 11-2 overall.

Sto-Rox won, 37-30, and Carlynton ended up losing three of its final four games, including its only playoff contest.

“We had progressed as a team so well throughout the season, it was disappointing to lose three of four at the end,” Carlynton coach Michael Kozy said. “The Sto-Rox game was tough. They are a rival of ours, and there has been so much history over the years. Playing for the section title was exciting, and even though we lost, we will be able to draw from the experience going forward. I respect Sto-Rox a great deal. They are well coached, and they play hard from beginning to end.”

The end for Carlynton came 12 days after the Sto-Rox loss when they fell to Sewickley Academy, 49-34, in a Class 2A first-round playoff game.

“It was disappointing to lose in the first round of the playoffs, especially on our home floor,” Kozy said. “So much credit has to go to Sewickley. They are well coached, and their players made big plays and hit big shots in the second half. Just as with the Sto-Rox loss, it is an experience we will draw from to get better.”

These tough experiences down the stretch could be a driving force for the program for years to come. The Cougars had a very young roster this past season, putting an impressive spin on their final 12-5 overall record.

“This year’s team was so much different than last year’s,” Kozy said. “We go from being a veteran team with oodles of experience to the opposite. Our young guys were a terrific bunch. They worked hard every day and always wanted to be coached, wanted to learn. I can’t remember many times all season when we had a bad practice. That’s a testament to the kids.”

The young Cougars raced out of the post-shutdown gates in January with wins in their first five games. Later in the season, they won four straight between losses to Sto-Rox.

Those successes during a unique season are what Kozy will remember about the 2021 campaign.

“Coming into the season with such a young squad and during a pandemic, it was hard to know what to expect,” he said. “The highlight for me was watching the group of boys become a team. We have to remember the backdrop. The kids were at home with school being remote, and they weren’t seeing their friends very much. Basketball provided something more than just basketball. It gave them a little bit of normalcy, a chance to see their friends.

“I remember early in the season, it was a Saturday practice. We went from noon to 2 p.m. that day. When I blew the whistle to talk to the kids at the end, one of the players looked up at the clock and said, ‘It’s 2 o’clock already? I wish practice could be six hours long.’

“I believe deeply in the values of sport, teamwork, sacrifice, competition, etc. These lessons are the reasons why we have high school sports for kids. At the end of the day, ask former players what they remember. They’ll talk about that particular game or moment, but they will also talk about the friendships along the way. I feel fortunate that our group was able to have a positive experience during these challenging times.”

Carlynton had three players average in double-digit points. Junior Khalil Kerr averaged 13.8 points per game, sophomore Jaiden McClure averaged 13.1 points per game and sophomore Austin Milliner averaged 12.3 points per game.

For Kozy and Carlynton fans, there is plenty to be optimistic about looking ahead to the Cougars boys basketball team next winter.

“Every year brings a fresh start,” he said. “Having so many returning players is exciting. I look forward to seeing our kids get better individually and for our team to develop as a whole.”

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