Kiski Area boys look to build off near-upset in WPIAL playoffs

Monday, November 20, 2023 | 8:40 PM

As the No. 14 seed for last year’s WPIAL Class 5A boys basketball tournament, Kiski Area was a decided underdog against a North Hills team searching for its first WPIAL title.

On paper, that is.

The Cavaliers didn’t back down from the formidable challenge. They led North Hills into the fourth quarter and had a chance to tie the score in the final minute.

But the Indians held on for a 76-71 victory.

“That game still has a bad taste in my mouth because we were so close,” third-year Cavaliers coach Corey Smith said.

“But I am happy that a lot of our guys who are coming back this year got that experience and also have that bad taste in their mouth. Hopefully, if we get back to the playoffs this year, and I am confident that we will, we can use that experience as motivation and get past that first round.”

Three players from last year’s playoff qualifier who started against North Hills were lost to graduation, and a fourth was lost to a knee injury in the offseason. But there is optimism that the one starter back, Section 3 first-team all-star Isaiah Gonzalez, and several other returners can come together, raise their games and lift the team to that next level.

“I like the way we look on the court,” Gonzalez said.

“Practices are competitive. Everybody understands each other’s games. We’re building a lot of chemistry through these first couple of practices. We all see what we need to do to reach our goals.”

Jason Flemm, a senior who was set to return as a starter, will not play this season after suffering another knee injury, an ACL tear over the summer. He recently had surgery.

While he is not able to play, Smith said he takes solace in the fact that Flemm will be a part of the team and, in a sense, another coach on the court.

“While we won’t have him physically on the court with us this year, he is still a huge part of the team,” Smith said.

“He hasn’t missed a practice yet, except for when he got his surgery and was in recovery for that week. He is there every day. He is so encouraging and is an inspiration to the other guys on the team. He knows how to put a smile on the younger kids’ faces and also give them confidence with what he does with his experience. I told him he has free reign to coach the kids up like he is an official coach.”

Gonzalez scored 17 points in the game against North Hills and led the team in several categories last year.

“He has stepped up tremendously, especially since coming in after football,” Smith said.

“Him having a good football season and helping them get to the WPIAL playoffs gave him even more confidence to do big things on the basketball court. This will be his fourth year playing varsity basketball, so he has that experience. I am excited to see what he can do for himself and in leading this team.”

Gonzalez is roughly 150 points away from 1,000 for his varsity career.

That is a personal goal, but Smith said Gonzalez’s goal for the team is to help it win the section, get back to the playoffs, and make a run to the Petersen Events Center.

Noah Thimons, a senior guard and an all-section honorable mention selection last year along with Flemm, is expected to see an increased role and move into a starting spot.

He came off the bench against North Hills and hit seven 3-pointers, finishing with a team-best 21 points.

Smith said Thimons also is battling back from an injury, but he hopes to be ready to go when Kiski Area plays Johnstown’s Westmont Hilltop in the opening game of the Armstrong Tip-Off Tournament on Dec. 1.

“He wasn’t a starter last year, but he got what I call ‘starter minutes,’” Smith said.

“He came off the bench, but he got just as much playing time as a couple of the starters did. His role is going to increase. He’s not practicing right now, but he’s there every day preparing himself mentally and encouraging his teammates.”

Sophomore guard Amaree Gonzalez, Isaiah’s brother; junior guards Colin Keller, Jacob Musselman and Carson Heinle; junior forward Tyler McDermott; senior forward Owen Person; and senior Terry “Bart” Martin, are among those making their cases to move into the starting lineup or see minutes off a deep bench.

“We’re looking to go about nine or 10 deep this year,” Smith said.

“Each kid brings something special to the table. We have scorers, rebounders, facilitators. There’s leadership, there’s energy, and a lot of guys who want to make a difference and make this a great season.”

Smith said he expects the section, with Latrobe, McKeesport, Gateway, Franklin Regional and Penn-Trafford, to be challenging again this year.

“I don’t think there is a clear-cut favorite, but I think we can be one of those top teams,” Smith said. “But it’s not going to be an easy road. We’re going to have to earn every win we get.”

The Cavaliers will face either Deer Lakes or the host River Hawks on the second night of the tip-off tournament Dec. 2.

When the season does tip-off, Smith will have a familiar face to area basketball fans with him.

Former Franklin Regional head coach Steve Scorpion has joined Smith’s staff.

“He brings a lot of experience to our program,” Smith said.

Kiski Area boys at a glance

Coach: Corey Smith (third season)

Last year’s record: 11-12 overall (5-5 in Section 3-5A)

Returning starter: Isaiah Gonzalez (Sr., G)

Key newcomers: Colin Keller (Jr., G), Jacob Musselman (Jr., G), Carson Heinle (Jr., G), Amaree Gonzalez (Soph., G).

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


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