Defense carries Penn-Trafford boys to 1st playoff win in 20 years

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Sunday, March 7, 2021 | 9:01 AM


When Doug Kelly was hired as the boys basketball coach at Penn-Trafford, one thing he and his staff focused on was team defense.

It was a big reason why the team won its first playoff game in 20 years.

The Warriors defeated North Hills, 63-50, in a WPIAL Class 6A first-round game last week and advanced to the quarterfinals against Butler.

On Friday night, Butler’s Devin Carney dashed No. 4 Penn-Trafford’s playoff hopes with a deep, buzzer-beating 3-pointer that earned No. 5 Butler a wild 58-55 victory in the WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals.

The last time Penn-Trafford won a playoff game was in 2001, a 54-51 overtime victory against Peters Township.

“There have been some great players and coaches that go years and don’t get into the playoffs or get a playoff win,” Kelly said. “We’ve been a grateful group from our coaching staff to our players. We’re happy, I’m satisfied.”

Defense and rebounding was a big reason Penn-Trafford was able to pull away for the win against North Hills.

The final score was closer than the game. The Warriors had a 23-point lead in the third quarter and maintained an 18-point advantage much of the fourth quarter.

“Defense is one of the things we really wanted to improve on as a Penn-Trafford team,” Kelly said. “We wanted to continue to compete harder with our on-the-ball defense, support defense and rebounding. I thought we rebounded really well, especially in the first half and over three quarters.

“Those are things we worked on all season. We felt those were the areas that we were going to have a chance every night. Those are the things that were going to carry us so when the offense had trouble getting going that we could stay close and be in games.”

Penn-Trafford’s quick guards — Chase Vecchio, Jarred Schoffstall, Nick Crum, Noah Wright, Jason Sabol and Tommy Kalkstein — did a good job disrupting the North Hills’ offense. Junior center Ben Myers (6-foot-6 and senior Josh Kapcin were strong in the paint.

Kapcin, whose blocked shot led to a layup in the third quarter to halt a North Hills’ run, also did a great job defending and rebounding.

He led Penn-Trafford with 16 points and eight rebounds. He held North Hills’ leading scorer Alex Smith to nine points, eight under his average.

“That’s just us playing at a fast pace and turning our defense into offense,” Kapcin said. “That’s something we’re really big on. We get the ball, and we start pushing and take the pressure off our half-court offense.”

And while the victory was decisive on the scoreboard, it wasn’t in Kelly’s eyes.

A couple defensive lapses in the fourth quarter didn’t sit well with the coach.

It gave the team things to work on.

“We made them work on getting shots and we cleaned up the glass,” Kelly said. “That’s what we worked on all season.”

That work paid dividends as Penn-Trafford rode its defense to a long-awaited playoff win.

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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