Despite roster rebuild, Penn Hills boys make run to PIAA playoffs

Friday, March 15, 2019 | 7:49 PM

Heading into the boys basketball season, Penn Hills was coming off the program’s first WPIAL championship since 2003 with a revamped roster.

Coach Dan DeRose was unsure of what he had with his team after losing a lot of key contributors to graduation.

The Indians (20-5, 12-0) ended up having their best regular season since DeRose took over at Penn Hills in 2015 as they went undefeated in Section 1-5A.

However, the Indians’ lack of experience with this new cast came to the forefront when Penn Hills lost its last two games in the postseason.

Senior guard Tyree Spencer, the sixth-man on the WPIAL title team the year before, led the Indians this season. Spencer, who decided to not play basketball at the collegiate level, was the only returning varsity player.

“If you told me ahead of time that would’ve gone undefeated in the section, three first-teamers and win 20 games, I would say no way,” DeRose said.

“I should be happy and excited but once you get to a certain point you no longer feel that way because you realize you’re good enough to win this, and you’re disappointed that we didn’t take it further.”

Penn Hills’ postseason run seemed to get off on the right foot when the Indians defeated Montour, 62-50, in the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs Feb. 22.

Because of the team’s inexperience, DeRose was worried quality would show. Heading into the playoffs, DeRose thought the Indians never showed it. However, the postseason was a different story as the Indians were careless with the basketball, leading to large deficits Penn Hills couldn’t overcome. Penn Hills lost 59-46 to Moon in the semifinals Feb. 26 at North Hills.

The Indians didn’t lose consecutive games during the season until following up the loss to Moon with a 63-60 loss to Muhlenberg in the first round of the PIAA playoffs in Hershey on March 8.

“We just made mistakes here and there and it just added up. Every play counts. We were prepared but maybe we got caught up in the moment. We just didn’t execute what we needed to do,” Spencer said.

The regular season was highlighted by an 81-48 win at McKeesport on Jan. 11 and a season sweep of Woodland Hills. The Indians defeated Woodland Hills, 79-57, at home Jan. 15 and 63-57 at Woodland Hills on Feb. 8.

After the loss to Muhlenberg, DeRose thought the best idea for him and the players was to get back in the gym to work on their craft for next year.

DeRose and some of the underclassmen participated in the Basketball Stars of America tournament 24 to 48 hours after the season-ending loss.

“There is no better medicine than getting right back into the saddle and to forget about what just happened. I was having a tough time sleeping,” DeRose said.

“The quickest remedy was to get right back on the court, and I was coaching my younger kids and trying to get them ready for next year.”

The future is bright at Penn Hills as the Indians will return sophomore forward Wes Kropp and junior point guard Kyree Mitchell, who received Western Pennsylvania Big 56 Section 1-5A first-team honors. Sophomore guard Eddie Daniels also will return.

“We need to learn how to stick together. We need to work on team bonding and playing as a team. We are going to lose a lot of seniors again,” Kropp said.

“I think we’re going to be as good next year. We can’t take any team lightly and come out and play hard the whole game because anything can happen.”

The Indians will look to replace the production lost by Spencer, who was a first-team all-section selection, and guard/forward Marshall McArthur, who was a second-team selection.

“I think we’re just to the point now where every year there’s going to be expectations. It doesn’t matter who we lose, Penn Hills should be good. It’s the way I want it. I want the kids to want it that way,” DeRose said.

“We proved that when you lose so much talent you can still get it done as long as you work hard.”


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