GCC, Ligonier Valley boys press on in playoffs without transfers

Thursday, February 13, 2020 | 4:50 PM

Greensburg Central Catholic will be without its leading scorer for the WPIAL boys basketball playoffs.

Junior guard Christian McGowan is not injured. In fact, he is perfectly healthy and has started all 22 games for the Centurions (16-6). He played a key role in the team sharing the Section 3-A title with Clairton.

The reality is, since McGowan transferred from Greensburg Salem after his sophomore year, he is ineligible for the postseason as per a PIAA rule meant to curb the immediate impact of transfers.

GCC opens the Class A tournament at 1 p.m. Saturday against Eden Christian (13-9) at Fox Chapel.

Knowing for quite some time that McGowan’s season would be cut short, the Centurions have tried to prepare for life without him — a taxing proposition that won’t fully be realized until they take the court for a game without their 14.5 point-per-game scorer.

“It definitely changes us,” GCC first-year coach Christian Hyland said. “Christian has been a great addition to our program. He’s a high-character kid, a quiet leader and also a really good player. But we’ve known this was the situation all year. So we’ve prepared the best we could, whether it’s substitution in games, different lineups in practices. We’ve played a deep bench all year so a lot of different guys have big-game experiences. It’s the next-man-up mentality.”

A growing bench on a six-senior, six-junior, five-sophomore team has seen the emergence of players like 6-foot-4 sophomore Ryan Appleby, whose minutes have increased to match his scoring. Hyland has played up to 10 players, mixing and matching lineups to fit opponents, with an eye toward the postseason.

“I think all of the seniors will play a role,” Hyland said. “They understand how the playoffs are and have been in those situations before.”

Senior guard Nate Ward has been on soccer teams that had to play one or two men down in the playoffs, so he believes the Centurions can overcome the vacancy.

“For sure, we’re going to miss him,” Ward said. “He’s played a big role on our team. However, we have plenty of guys ready and willing to step up and fill his spot. One thing about our team is that when someone’s having an off night, someone else is hot. “When we are all on at the same time we are a very dangerous team.”

GCC won nine straight games before dropping its final two — against Clairton and Class 2A playoff team Charleroi — to close the regular season.

“Christian is a great player and great addition to the team,” sophomore forward Brevan Williams said. “We’re preparing as a team for any opponent, and everyone is ready to step up and do whatever it takes to win.”

McGowan has been a key defender in the backcourt, particularly when the Centurions press, and has been a scorer from the shooting guard spot. But there are possessions when the team plays him under the basket.

Hyland said McGowan’s true position is point guard, but he has not played much of that position this season.

“But we’ve seen a ton of zone this season,” Hyland said, “and he is such a crafty facilitator and scorer inside those zones that we like to put him inside.”

GCC is not alone in its short-handedness.

Ligonier Valley will have to play without senior guard Kyle Silk in the District 6 playoffs. Silk was ruled ineligible for the postseason after transferring from United. Like McGowan, he played the entire regular season and helped the Rams win the Heritage Conference title.

Silk averages 17 points per game.

“It will not be an easy task to replace not only a great athlete but also a great leader,” Rams coach John Berger said. “But we knew this could happen and we will stick to the next-man-up (mentality).”

Berger said senior Cooper Mills will move into the starting lineup.

“He will give us rebounding and is very quick to the basket,” Berger said.

Sophomore Jaicob Hollick, a solid outside shooter and defender, also has seen increased minutes, the coach said, and “the bigger stage does not seem to phase him.”

Junior Mason Seftas also has played more of late, providing a physical rebounding presence around the rim.

The GCC girls have a similar situation with sophomore Bailey Kuhns, who transferred from Southmoreland. She played two regular season games, including a 22-point performance in a loss to Monessen, but cannot play in the postseason.

Belle Vernon sophomore Devin Whitlock, who transferred from Monessen, is eligible to join the Leopards in the playoffs because he switched schools after his freshman year.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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