Jeannette boys basketball overcomes injuries, absences, distractions

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Monday, February 26, 2018 | 9:12 PM


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Jeannette's mission from the start of the basketball season has been to get the same lineup of players on the floor at the same time for an extended period of time — a steady, dependable rotation coach Adrian Batts knew was capable of making a run in the WPIAL playoffs.

Was that too much to ask?

Apparently it was. And it continues to be in the postseason.

“Every time you turn around, it's something else,” Batts said. “You start to wonder, ‘What's next?' ”

Amazingly, third-seeded Jeannette (19-3) has played its projected rotation just four times in 22 games. Batts still wonders how good the team might have been with a steady rotation of nine or 10 players, but the Jayhawks have fared pretty well despite the injuries, absences and distractions.

No, very well.

“We're used to it by now,” senior guard Robert Kennedy said. “We might be down one or two guys again, so we need our bench to step up.”

The Jayhawks' next-man-up story winds into the Class 2A semifinals Tuesday night at Peters Township, where they will take on No. 2 Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (21-2). The winner goes to the championship game 5 p.m. Friday at Pitt's Petersen Events Center.

Junior forward Marcus Barnes was called for two technical fouls in the quarterfinals against Shenango, which, by rule, means he must sit out the next game.

Reserve guard Jackson Pruitt is battling the flu and could miss Tuesday's game.

“It's the playoffs, so you have to turn it up,” Kennedy said. “We can't worry about it. We have to come out with the same mindset. We have to defend and rebound. Our goal is still not just to win, it's to dominate.”

Jeannette will make its 10th trip to the semifinals. It beat Eden Christian in 2015 to reach the finals but lost to Sewickley Academy, 69-68, in 2016, a loss that still lingers.

Jeannette has had plenty of talented teams, but this could be the one that finishes the job and brings the program its second basketball title and first since 2008. But with pieces missing, how long can the run go?

“We need our best effort (against OLSH),” Batts said. “We have to get those 50/50 balls. Poogie (Kennedy) is a big key for us, and Anthony (Johnson) is a tough matchup.”

Players were slow getting back from a WPIAL and state football championship, which already set Jeannette back some. Johnson sprained his ankle and missed six games. Seth Howard also missed time with an injury, and Kennedy and Johnson did not play a game because of football commitments. And now, Barnes is out.

But Batts takes it all in stride. He even tries to add some levity to a situation that can get frustrating.

It has made his job interesting as he attempts to defy continuity.

“When you think about it, for us to be where we're at, not having everybody,” Batts said. “We played a pretty tough schedule. Our guys have stayed the course.”

Reserves have played well, with sophomore Imani Sanders, Pruitt and junior Malik Gordon providing valuable minutes. Junior Shamon Jackson scored the winning basket against Serra Catholic in double-overtime.

Bench players often have to play well in postseason games for teams to advance. But those athletic starters, such as Kennedy, Johnson, and senior Tre Cunningham, are the focus of OLSH's game plan.

“Oh, I think they're tremendous,” OLSH coach Mike Rodriguez said of Jeannette. “I don't think they've had their whole team for the entire year. I think Anthony Johnson's great, and I think Cunningham's great.

“I think they're one of the top teams in Western Pennsylvania, not just our classification.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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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