Kiski Area boys basketball on verge of taking next step

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Thursday, December 12, 2019 | 5:28 PM


A year ago, the Kiski Area boys basketball team finished their 2018-19 season with just four wins in the first year of coach Will Saunders’ tenure.

Now, after a 54-52 win over Connellsville this past Tuesday, the Cavaliers are already halfway to that total, and with the team that Saunders has put together this season, he’s sure the victories will continue to pile up.

“We can be good. We just have to find the right eight guys that we want to play every night,” Saunders said. “We’re still playing with lineups, but we can be good. By the time we get to the second half of the section, I think we can be really good. We’re still young, so as we get the practice and come together, we’ll be a team pushing for a playoff spot.”

Some of the mainstays from a year ago are back. Jason Baker, a 6-foot-7 junior, gives the team a down-low presence, and sophomore guard Kyrell Hutcherson is an athletic guard who can get into the paint. Senior Max Heinle and sophomore sharpshooter Joe Lukas also round out the group of returners from last season.

But the additions of Central Catholic transfer Kenny Blake — who scored 25 points in a victory over Derry to kick off the season — and freshman point guard LeBryn Smith give the Cavaliers even more athleticism than a year ago.

Not only has the makeup of the team been tweaked a little bit, but the culture has as well, and Baker said that has helped in the early parts of this season.

“It’s a pass-first mentality now,” Baker said. “Last year, it was kind of like an, ‘I want to score,’ or a me vs. we mentality. Now it’s a we vs. me.”

That team-first mentality will not only help within the culture of the team, but it will contribute to the style of basketball the Cavaliers want to play. They have the speed, size and shooting ability to be able to run the court at will, which is exactly what Saunders wants to do.

“We’re younger this year, but we’re a lot more athletic,” Saunders said. “We’re playing a lot of guys, but we’re playing in a different way. We’re still playing a lot of half-court defense, but we’re running on every miss, and we want to get our guys out in transition, run ahead, throw ahead and shoot the three in transition. We want to run on everything.”

Now all the Cavaliers have to do is put it together.

Heading into Thursday’s section opener against Shaler, the Cavaliers have tried different lineups to see what works best. With that experimental period comes growing pains, and their matchup against Connellsville on Tuesday was the perfect example of that.

They started the game on a 24-0 run and only allowed Connellsville to score three points in the first quarter. But after the halftime break, the Falcons came out and went on a 22-0 run and shut out the Cavaliers in the third quarter.

“I like our team. We’re young and when we play with energy and enthusiasm, I think we are tough,” Saunders said. “But in that third quarter, we kind of (sleep walked), and it showed in the way we played. So we just have to know how to snap out of that.”

While they responded well in the waning moments of the game and came out on top with a two-point victory, their play in the first quarter was a sample of what the Cavaliers can do this season. And once they get where they want to be, well, look out.

“Very,” Hutcherson said when asked about how dangerous the Cavaliers could be. “Once we start to get it clicking, it’s going to be very hard to stop us.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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