Despite loss in PIAA 2nd round, Highlands boys basketball proves it has arrived

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | 5:24 PM


All seasons must come to an end. For the Highlands boys basketball team, its storybook season concluded Tuesday night against Grove City in the second round of the PIAA Class 4A playoffs.

After the Golden Rams led 10-2 through the first 5 minutes, the Eagles (18-9) slowly gained momentum over the final three quarters and defeated Highlands, 45-38, to advance to the quarterfinals.

“Basketball is such a cruel sport because there is only one team that ends the season on a win, and for everyone else, you’re second best,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “All the credit to Grove City. They played us tough, and they were super physical inside.”

The Golden Rams (23-4) led 14-7 in the first quarter, but then Grove City implemented a slow and deliberate offense to take Highlands out of its rhythm.

The Golden Rams scored only eight points in each of the final three quarters. Heading into the matchup, Highlands was averaging 71.3 points.

“We knew they were going to hold it, but as a coach, we have to know better,” Stoczynski said. “We should’ve went to our press earlier. We had our chances, and it is what it is. Hopefully, we can get better from it and continue to proceed as a program on the trajectory we are currently on.”

Although the pace was slow, the Golden Rams controlled the game on the scoreboard. Highlands led from the moment it took a 5-2 lead in the first quarter until Grove City’s Kade Persinger hit a layup with 5 minutes, 4 seconds left in the fourth quarter to push the Eagles ahead 31-30.

From there, the two teams went back and forth. Freshman Jimmy Kunst hit an and-one layup to put Highlands back up by one, but the Eagles responded with an 8-0 run. Despite a now seven-point deficit, Highlands battled back.

“Our guys were still fighting, and we hit back-to-back 3s to get us back into the game,” Stoczynski said.

But the Eagles held on to end Highlands’ postseason run.

While Highlands’ season might be over, the Golden Rams put together the type of year that proved they have arrived as one of the premier programs in the WPIAL.

They captured their first WPIAL title since 1995, won a share of their third straight section title and won 23 games, their highest total since their last WPIAL championship appearance in 2016.

“We have a lot to be proud of for the season we had,” the eighth-year coach said. “Obviously, this wasn’t the expectation for tonight. But it is what it is, and you take what you can from it. It hurts because it’s the last one of the season, and it’s the last time we get to be with these seniors.”

Stoczynski has been building the Highlands program since taking over in 2012, when his first team won only one game. Over the past four years, the three seniors, Johnny Crise, Korry Myers and Luke Cochran, have been a big part of taking the program to the next level.

Each averaged in double-digits in scoring, and they put their stamp on the program on the court and off it.

“I’m so proud of this team. I’m ecstatic to be their coach,” Stoczynski said. “We did something that the community can be proud of. The wins and losses are great, but to transform boys into men by the time they leave our program is something we really try and hold on to.”

Highlands will return a majority of its roster next season, including Kunst, juniors Antoine McDaniel and Wahkeem Roman and sophomore Carter Leri, all of whom earned significant minutes this season.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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