Derry boys make playoff statement with win over Ligonier Valley

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 | 1:05 AM

The WPIAL takes the top four teams in each section for the playoffs next month.

Derry boys basketball coach Tom Esposito told his players to treat Tuesday’s Section 3-3A game against Ligonier Valley as a playoff game. The Trojans (7-6, 3-3) then went out and played as if they want to be part of the playoffs.

Behind hot 3-point shooting from Nathan Papuga and Ethan Frye, the Trojans rolled over the visiting Rams, 63-28, in a battle for the final playoff spot. Ligonier Valley fell to 3-12 and 2-4.

Papuga scored 20, Gabe Carbonara added 16 points and Frye scored eight, all in the first quarter when the Trojans opened up a 20-11 lead.

Derry played well,” Ligonier Valley coach Tim Gustin said. “They played like a team that is ready for the playoffs, and we didn’t. We sure didn’t come to play. Our defense was poor.”

Derry was coming off a hard-fought loss at first-place Shady Side Academy, a game Esposito felt his team could have won.

“We were up with 28 seconds left,” Esposito said. “Despite the loss, our players gained a lot of confidence.

“We had two great practices, and we came out strong against Ligonier. We shot the ball well and played outstanding defense. The players are starting to buy in on what we are teaching.”

Derry outscored Ligonier Valley, 14-4, in the second quarter and built a 34-15 lead at halftime. It got the game into the mercy rule by the fourth quarter.

Derry made 10 3-pointers, four by Papuga.

Ligonier Valley had one 3-pointer. Jimmy Pleskovitch led the Rams with nine points.

“I thought we’d be a lot better,” Gustin said. “It’s been a difficult year for various reasons. Sometimes we play well, and other times we don’t.”

Esposito said the win puts his team in a good position heading into the final six games of the season.

The Trojans host Deer Lakes on Jan. 24.

“Anything can happen,” Esposito said.

“We just have to continue to build off this win.”

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

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