Kiski Area boys plan to pick up the pace

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Monday, November 25, 2019 | 4:42 PM


Entering year two of his tenure at Kiski Area, Will Saunders is ready to let his team run.

The Cavaliers will be young this year, but Saunders is excited because he has a team that fits his style of up-tempo basketball that’ll combat a lot of half-court offenses in a difficult Section 3-5A.

“We’re going to be fast, and I think we’re going to be one of the more athletic teams in the section,” Saunders said. “I’ve always believed in playing fast and we weren’t able to play as fast as I wanted to last year. As the season goes on, I believe we’ll be able to challenge some of the top teams in our section.”

The Cavaliers graduated seven seniors but return two starters in sophomore guard Kyrell Hutcherson and 6-foot-7 junior forward Jason Baker from a team that finished 4-18 (3-11 in Section 3-5A). Hutcherson was a second-team all-section selection as a freshman and is the returning leading scorer with nine points per game. Sophomore Joe Lukas is another returner that saw plenty of varsity time.

Both returning starters fit the description of the type of player Saunders covets and so do some key additions.

Kenneth Blake, a junior, is a Central Catholic transfer who will slot into the lineup.

James Pearson is a sophomore that came out for the team after not playing a season ago. Saunders said Pearson is one of the most athletic players on the roster. Freshman Lebryn Smith, who saw time at quarterback for the Cavaliers, is another key newcomer that adds depth, as does sophomore Calvin Heinle.

The Cavaliers will be up against two-time defending WPIAL champ Mars, PIAA qualifier Shaler, Franklin Regional and Hampton in section play.

The plan early on is for the young Cavaliers to grow together, but once they gel, Saunders is excited for what’s to come.

“I’ve been telling everyone that they better get us early, because in the second half of the year, we’re going to be tough to deal with,” Saunders said. “Once we get some of these young guys some experience playing together, I think we’ll be tough to handle. We just have to build their confidence because some of these guys have never played varsity basketball before. Even though we tell them how hard it’s going to be, they realize it once they’re out there.”

Hutcherson and Baker both went through the eye-opening experience of playing big minutes against top competition.

“I was nervous at first (last year), but I just played and did what I had to do,” Hutcherson said. “You just have to stay locked in and work hard.”

Blake helped the Cavaliers football team reach the playoffs by rushing for 980 yards and a dozen touchdowns. He also led the team with 14 receptions. Baker said he’ll have a similar impact on the hardwood.

“We know him well,” Baker said. “He’ll help big time. We played together with him in AAU ball (with Top Level).”

Kiski Area opens at the Derry Tournament on Dec. 6.

Section 3 will likely be a juggernaut again.

Mars graduated four seniors from its WPIAL championship team but returns 6-6 forward Michael Carmody, who is a Notre Dame football recruit. Shaler returns first-team all-section guard Mehki Reynolds and Hampton has two all-section players returning in forward Ben Rigeisen and guard Colby Mignogna. Armstrong, Plum and Indiana are also in the section.

“It’s a really good section with some great coaches,” Saunders said. “We feel good about having gone through the section once . We are going to have to match up against some teams that have a lot more experience, but we’re going to use our athleticism to do that.

“We have a bunch of guys that we feel like can play varsity basketball, so we want to get up and down the floor. Limiting our possessions hurts us. We want to play fast, rotate guys in and sub all the time to wear teams down a little bit. That is our goal for this season.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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