Highlands gets set for PIAA matchup with Harbor Creek

Thursday, March 5, 2020 | 5:19 PM

Last weekend, the Golden Rams lifted gold at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center, celebrating Highlands’ first WPIAL boys basketball championship since 1995.

Highlands (22-3) enjoyed its title, but its mission isn’t done. The next chapter begins Friday when the Golden Rams open the PIAA Class 4A playoffs against District 10 third-place finisher Harbor Creek (17-8) at 7:30 p.m. at Kiski Area.

“We gotta keep working and keep practicing,” freshman guard Jimmy Kunst said. “We’re trying to win a state championship, so we gotta go hard every time and not worry about the teams were playing but worry about ourselves and go out and perform.”

The Huskies earned their spot in the PIAA tournament with a 52-45 win over Warren in the District 10 tournament. Last season, the Huskies were 7-18 with two seniors who scored 16.4 of their 44.6 points per game.

Now, the Huskies are leaning on a balanced scoring effort. Coach Ryan Smock doesn’t have any players scoring in double digits, but senior Avery Ennis and junior Sam Howell are averaging nine points . Four other players are also scoring at least five points during their turnaround season.

“They are gonna play deliberate basketball, and they are going to get the shot that they want,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “They are big. They are strong, and they have some guys that have some speed to them. So we have to make sure we stay in front of the ball, and we have to continue to communicate on defense to make everything really difficult for them.”

Harbor Creek is making its second PIAA appearance since 2017.

“We’re very excited to have qualified for the state tournament,” Smock said. “We feel like we very much earned the right to represent District 10.”

During the playoffs, the Golden Rams seemed to hit their stride. They won all three games by at least eight points, two of them by at least 18. They did it with a mixture of outside shooting from Korry Myers and Luke Cochran as well as dominant post play from 6-foot-6 forward Johnny Crise.

“We’ve been pretty lucky, where every year when we get to the playoffs, we seem to be playing our best basketball,” Stoczynski said. “I think that’s just from guys understanding exactly what we want and how we want it done as a coaching staff. They are really executing that, and they are valuing what the coaches are giving them to make them ultimately successful on the court.”

Cochran, Crise, and Myers are averaging more than 14 points, and Wahkeem Roman, Jimmy Kunst, Antoine McDaniel and Carter Leri have played key roles as well. Smock knows the Golden Rams will present a difficult challenge.

“We definitely need to try to slow them down and not allow any second shots,” Smock said. “They appear to be a very potent offensive team that offensively rebounds very well.”

The winner will face District 5 champion Bedford (17-7) or District 10 runner-up Grove City (16-9) on Tuesday in the second round.

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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