Derry’s mission: win program’s 1st playoff game

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Sunday, February 17, 2019 | 6:28 PM


Derry’s motivation for the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs isn’t completely centered on a timeline aspect. The Trojans had not been to the postseason since 2007-08, so this has been quite a significant run.

But no, this team’s driving force is much simpler than that: Derry never has won a playoff game in the sport.

As in, ever?

“It’s hard to believe, but as far as we can tell, it’s never been done,” coach Tom Esposito said. “We’ve talked to a lot of guys who have been around (Derry sports), and they don’t remember us winning a playoff game.”

It’s true.

Derry, as in the school formed by the merger of Derry Boro and Derry Township in 1957, is 0-7 all-time in the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs.

Derry Boro had only one playoff win, 31-25 over North Union, in 1943.

Tenth-seeded Derry (12-7) opens the Class 4A playoffs 8 p.m. Wednesday against No. 7 Blackhawk (9-13) at North Allegheny.

Esposito is in his second stint with the team. He was in charge from 1998 to 2006 before taking a family break. In his first run, the Trojans made the playoffs twice but made two first-round exits in Class AAA, to Steel Valley and Elizabeth Forward.

Derry won a section title in 1957 but lost in the first round that season.

This is the team’s first winning season since 2000-01.

“There has been such great support from the administration and the community here,” Esposito said. “Sports here are reaching another level. You saw it with football. Now, we want it to happen to our program, too.”

This year’s has the look of a group that could be the one that finally breaks through and scores a postseason victory.

“This year, we really hit the weight room hard, more than we hit the court,” junior guard Aidan Bushey said. “All of us getting stronger really helped us. We took that next step in the summer, now we took that next step during the season. We’re not done yet. We believe we can make some noise in the playoffs.”

Preparation is the staple that holds Esposito’s coaching philosophy in place. He scouts teams for hours and gives his players four-page scouting reports.

His practices are detailed, down to the minute.

“Coach will be up until 4 in the morning watching film, and he’ll get us ready to go,” Bushey said. “I sometimes study harder for those than I do tests. I am waiting to come in for a written test one of these days. It might be harder than the SAT.”

Experience will no doubt help the Trojans, as well.

Assistant coach Matt Polinsky made the playoffs when he was a senior at Derry, while playing for Esposito. Another assistant, Dan Sinwell, played in the PIAA Class AA championship as a junior at Greensburg Central Catholic in 2010-11.

Esposito reached the PIAA Class A elite eight as a coach at Homer-Center.

And football-turned-basketball players Justin Huss and Tanner Nicely bring big-game experience after playing in the WPIAL Class 3A title game at Heinz Field.

“We’re very fortunate with the coaching staff I have,” said Esposito, a gym teacher at Derry’s Grandview Elementary. “They have had the experience as players. We’re trying to, bits and pieces, let (the players) feed off of what our experiences have been making the playoffs in the past … trying to get the guys mentally prepared, slowly. Huss and Nicely have that next-level preparedness.

“Coaching this team is so much fun. We practice harder than we play, and I think that’s why we have had some success this year. The unselfishness of our players goes a long way.”

Derry fans tend to follow their teams in packs.

That won’t change for basketball: seats for a fan bus were filling up fast late last week.

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