Fox Chapel boys starting to hit stride after two resume-building wins

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Thursday, January 28, 2021 | 5:55 PM


With the turnover the Fox Chapel boys basketball team went through in the offseason, losing four senior starters, there were bound to be a few ups and downs to their 2021 season that didn’t have to do with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Just four games into the season, the No. 3 Foxes (6-2, 3-1) went through that first downward trend. After they started back up on Jan. 8, they went 1-2 in their next three games and allowed 60-plus points in all three games, which was something that they only did once all of last year.

During his time at the head of the Fox Chapel program, coach Zach Skrinjar has instilled a defensive identity, and the team didn’t have that early on this season. But, in the past two weeks, the Foxes have begun to rebound, and they’ve done so in a big way.

In the middle of their current four-game winning streak, which included a 39-38 win over Norwin and a 70-63 win over McKeesport, Fox Chapel came away with two massive wins, knocking off both Central Catholic and No. 1-ranked Upper St. Clair.

“I think both of those wins were confidence boosters for us because both of those teams press a lot,” Skrinjar said. “We just wanted to go out and prove to ourselves that we could play with those guys and if we play our best, we are just as good as them. I think there was a quiet confidence going into both of those games. We knew that if we played well, we’d have a chance to win, and we did exactly what we needed to do.”

When the Foxes went 21-2 last season and earned the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL Class 6A playoffs, both Upper St. Clair and Central Catholic handed them significant losses.

The Panthers ended their perfect season by becoming the first team to score 60-plus points on them. Then, two weeks later, the Vikings upset the Foxes in a low-scoring 42-34 game in the second round of the WPIAL playoffs.

While this year’s victories may have seemed like a measure of revenge for the Foxes, Skrinjar said this is a new year for the team and they were nothing more than good wins to bolster their resume.

“Last year is last year, and we are kind of on our own with this year,” Skrinjar said. “We didn’t really even talk about it. At the end, we kind of were like, ‘Oh wow, OK, those were the teams.’ Going into it, there wasn’t any talk about paying them back because it’s not the same team. We wanted to win because we need to put good wins on our resume. We wanted to prove that we could compete with elite teams like that and prove that we were up there with them.”

While the Foxes have come up with big victories in the past two weeks, they’ve done so by getting back to their defensive identity. It showed during their wins over Norwin and Central Catholic, and even though they allowed the Panthers to score 70 points, Skrinjar said he thought they played well defensively during that win as well.

“I think, at times, it has improved greatly and we are kind of getting closer to where we need to be with it,” Skrinjar said. “Against Central, I thought it was there, and really the score might not have indicated it, but against St. Clair, our defense was pretty good. The total score, the points allowed, might have not shown it, but I thought we were back to playing a little bit more like ourselves in that one.”

There is always room for improvement on the defensive end, though, and that showed during their victory over the Tigers on Wednesday. After holding McKeesport to 22 points in the first half, the Foxes allowed them to score 21 in the third quarter and 20 in the fourth. They were able to hold them off down the stretch due to some clutch free-throw shooting and timely scoring.

Now, they just need to take another step forward.

“We need to do better than that,” Skrinjar said after their win on Wednesday. “Too many second shots tonight and just too many middle drives. This was not our best effort tonight. We kind of hit a little bit of a flat spot and did just enough to get it done, but I don’t think that will be enough to get it done on most nights.”

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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