Highlands boys battling to be among contenders for WPIAL Class 4A title

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Thursday, February 2, 2023 | 4:53 PM


Highlands boys basketball coach Corey Dotchin sensed that Class 4A was going to be a dogfight when he first got a look at the new section alignments in July.

That certainly has come to fruition, and the Golden Rams are in the thick of the fight.

The top two teams in each section are Hampton (16-2) and Highlands (15-3) in Section 1, Lincoln Park (17-1) and North Catholic (11-6) in Section 2, Uniontown (16-2) and Laurel Highlands (15-2) in Section 3 and South Allegheny (15-2) and Quaker Valley (11-5) in Section 4.

Each one of them boasts a resume featuring tradition and a recent run of good results.

There also are third-place teams such as Beaver (14-3) and Belle Vernon (9-9) that could be dangerous.

With the playoffs right around the corner, the Golden Rams are honing in on the last two weeks of section play to prepare for battle.

“We’ve relayed the message to the kids that it’s going to be a battle in a couple weeks, and we have to be the best version of ourselves when it comes that time,” Dotchin said. “That’s really been our approach from the first day of the season. Every game and every practice we’ve been continuing to climb up that ladder and be at the peak come playoff time.

“Normally, first-round matchups can be lopsided, favoring the higher-seeded team, but this year I wouldn’t be surprised to see an 11-seed beat a six or a 10 beat a seven seed. There’s going to be a lot of good matchups. Add in that the higher seed will host the first two rounds, and you may have to go beat a tough team on the road, which makes it even more difficult.”

The Golden Rams are second in Section 1 with a record of 5-2 behind Hampton (7-0), which has them in line to host a first-round game. They play at Greensburg Salem (5-14, 1-6) on Friday and host Indiana (6-12, 1-6) and Knoch (6-12, 4-3) next week to close out section play.

Highlands returned many of the key players from last season’s run to the Class 5A semifinals.

“They got a taste of the environment and how serious it is,” Dotchin said. “Our approach has been to lean on their experience and continue to teach. The guys are hungry. They know what the goal was coming in.”

Seniors Jimmy Kunst and Cam Reigard have continued their scoring ways. Kunst is averaging nearly 19 points a game. Reigard has made 53 3-pointers and is averaging 15 points.

What has made Highlands even more dangerous this year is the continued development of junior big man Bradyn Foster.

Foster has feasted this year, leading the team in scoring at 20.5 points per game. Dotchin said Foster’s work ethic has allowed him to flourish.

“He’s getting the fruits of his labor,” Dotchin said. “He wants to be good. He wants to be coached hard and play at the next level. When we met at the end of last year, we laid out the areas where he needed to get better and continue to take those steps. He took it personally and did everything he needed to do to achieve those goals. He gives us an added dimension. It makes it hard for teams to gameplan for, because you can’t just hone in on one kid.”

There’s also the added element of unsung heroes such as seniors Chandler Thimons and Landon Signorella. Thimons is a three-year starter, and Dotchin said he excels as a team leader and contributes in areas that might not show up on the scoresheet.

“Chandler is the quarterback on the football team, and he’s kind of the quarterback for us on the court,” Dotchin said. “He is a Swiss Army Knife. He can handle the ball like a guard, but he also has the post moves to finish inside. He’s our leading rebounder and probably leads us in assists as well.”

Signorella has been in the sixth-man role. He has embraced coming off the bench and being an energizer.

“Landon is our spark plug,” Dotchin said. “I love being able to go to him because he brings a toughness that is unmatched. He gets rebounds, dives on the floor and is all about the team. It’s never about him. Chandler and Landon do the little things and bring leadership. That goes a long way for us.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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