High school basketball teams appreciate, take lessons from pre-shutdown games

Thursday, December 17, 2020 | 5:35 PM

Last Friday, 71 WPIAL and City League boys and girls basketball teams kicked off their 2020-21 seasons in the shadow of a looming shutdown that will extend through the first couple of days of the New Year.

In the climate of covid uncertainties, the games were a chance for those teams, including five from the Alle-Kiski Valley, to gain a measure of additional knowledge after several weeks of on-court preseason work and to see what the future holds in what already is shaping up to be a season unlike any other.

“The most important part was just being able to get out there and have the guys be able to play and compete,” said Fox Chapel boys coach Zach Skrinjar, who saw his team top Hampton, 57-44, behind 21 points from junior Eli Yofan and 20 more from senior Kent Baldauf.

“The players put in a lot of time and took all the safety steps to assure they would be able to play, even if it was just the one game before the shutdown.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf last Thursday announced a three-week pause of all athletic activities in connection with overall efforts to mitigate the spread of covid. All high school sports are tentatively scheduled to resume Jan. 4 with competition to start up a couple of days later.

“It was great to get the win so we didn’t have to sit on a loss for three or four weeks, but there are still a number of things we need to work on, build off of and prepare for the next time we take to the court officially,” Skrinjar said. “Even though their families couldn’t be there, the school did a nice job of putting a live video stream of the game on the website so they could at least enjoy it from home.”

Film buffs

Hart Coleman, the second-year coach of the St. Joseph boys squad, said his team played well overall in its 42-36 home loss to Propel Braddock Hills, but it didn’t take advantage of as many opportunities as he would’ve liked. Senior Andrew Sullivan led the Spartans with 23 points.

“With the shutdown, I would’ve loved to have been able to practice the next day and kind of follow up on a few things,” said Coleman. “We want to do a little Xs and Os to stay sharp mentally even if we aren’t able to work out physically.”

Coleman said the screen share feature on Zoom will allow him to present and emphasize several highlights of the game film with his players as they hope to build on their initial outing.

A Zoom session Tuesday with film breakdown, first-year Knoch boys coach Alan Bauman said, gave his players the chance to give feedback from what they saw in their 79-59 loss to Mars, last year’s WPIAL Class 5A runner-up.

“We had a pretty good discussion and understanding of what we want to do offensively and defensively and where we need to simplify things,” Bauman said. “We will do more of that as we go along.”

Ryan Lang paced Knoch (0-1) with a career-high 29 points and Keegan Fraser scored 13.

“It was a valuable thing to be able to open up against such a quality opponent in Mars and see where we stood,” Bauman said. “We talk with the guys about cherishing each moment they have together because it can be taken away at any time.”

Lesson plans

The Fox Chapel girls, minus a couple of key players because of injury, battled Oakland Catholic, which also was missing two starters out while recovering from injury. The Foxes rallied from a double-digit deficit in the first half, but the Eagles came out on top 48-41.

“It was tough to open with the loss, but we were happy to have that opportunity to get in a game situation with another team and see how we can execute a lot of the things we had been working on in practice,” said Matvey, who saw senior Ellie Schwartzman score a team-best 15 points and fellow senior Marissa Ritter add 10.

“We saw some good things and things we need to work on. We want to control what we can control and know that everything we do over this break will determine what kind of season we can have. We need to continue to stay safe and healthy so we’re ready to get back at it in 2021.”

For Dennis Jones, St. Joseph girls head coach, Friday’s doubleheader against WPIAL powers Neshannock (65-18) and Mohawk (67-29) gave his young team, with several freshman figuring into the mix, a glimpse into what his team can do and become.

“I don’t think our competition will be that stiff every night in our section, but to start off with two very strong teams has definitely gotten their attention,” he said. “It was a boost for them to see what they can do, and they’re excited to get past this shutdown and get back to practices and games.”

Freshman Julie Spinelli led St. Joseph in both games, scoring nine points and adding six rebounds against Neshannock before scoring a team-best 10 against Mohawk.

Still waiting

Original opening-weekend plans called for eight other A-K Valley basketball teams – the girls teams from Knoch, Riverview, Kiski Area, Burrell and boys squads from Riverview, Valley, Kiski Area and Burrell – to open with tournament games Friday and Saturday or a single game on Friday.

But after the shutdown orders came down from Gov. Wolf’s office Thursday afternoon, those games were canceled.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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