Despite semifinal loss, Fox Chapel boys make strides

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Monday, March 15, 2021 | 12:58 PM


Coming into this season, Fox Chapel boys basketball coach Zach Skrinjar had to find a way to replace three senior starters from a team that went 21-2 a year ago and won its first 20 games of the season.

He had junior guards Eli Yofan and JP Dockey returning, but they were the only players who played significant minutes the year before. Then, they were met with the challenge of the covid-19 pandemic that brought the season to a pause after just one game.

But the Foxes learned, they grew together and they produced a season that was just as good as last year. After a 76-63 loss to No. 6 Pine-Richland in the semifinals of the WPIAL Class 6A tournament March 9, that season came to an end.

“I enjoyed every moment that we had with them, and, obviously, this wasn’t the way we wanted it to end,” Skrinjar said. “But it was a great run, and I’m proud of them.”

After a 2-2 start, the Foxes won 18 in a row heading into their semifinal matchup, and they did so with a team approach. Yofan, who scored 33 points against Pine-Richland, led the way for the Foxes this season at 22.3 points per game.

The growth of his teammates as the season progressed helped the Foxes reach a new level. The four other starters — Dockey, Kent Baldauf, Jake DeMotte and Russell Fenton — averaged at least 8 points per game, and each one stepped up at different times.

Dockey scored 20-plus points on three occasions and scored in double-digits 13 times while also recording a triple-double against Norwin on Feb. 9 with 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Jake DeMotte also developed as a scorer and an intense defender as the season went on. The junior guard set his career-high for points in a game four times and scored 28 in Fox Chapel’s playoff victory over Bethel Park.

Baldauf established himself as a sharpshooter, and Fenton took on the challenge of matching up with big men even though he normally gave up a few inches in height.

“It was really nice to see, and the thing is this group has been playing together for a while so even though they might’ve been in new roles, they all kind of knew what each other could do,” Skrinjar said. “So it took some time, but the more we played together and worked, we saw things being successful, and it was great to see their growth and maturity along the way.”

By the end of the regular season, the Foxes were clicking on all cylinders as they were scoring 66.7 points per game while giving up 54.4. They looked to be carrying a lot of momentum as they entered the playoffs and seemed to be in line for a trip to the WPIAL finals after a quarterfinal blowout victory over No. 7 North Allegheny. But the Rams stood in their way and brought their season to an end.

Despite the disappointing ending, Skrinjar was happy they were able to get in the amount of games they did.

“This was a lot of fun, and these guys were great to be around,” Skrinjar said. “They were great kids, and they really embraced a team mentality. They played really well together, and they came to work every day. Just being able to get in as many games as we did, I thought that was a kudos to the school district for allowing us to do that and to our coaches and to our players just to keep everyone safe during this crazy time.”

The Foxes will return everyone but Baldauf and fellow senior Alex Blaylock next season, and although it was still a little too early to look ahead to next season, Skrinjar said their expectations will stay the same.

”Every year we have goals to be competitive and compete for a championship,” Skrinjar said, “and next year is not going to be any different.”

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

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