Like Deer Lakes, West Catholic taking aim at 1st PIAA boys basketball title

By:
Friday, March 24, 2023 | 4:35 PM


Coach Miguel Bocachica says he’s just a guy who opens the gym at West Catholic Preparatory High School.

He credits his players’ hard work as the primary reason the Burrs earned their first District 12 boys basketball title earlier this month and are set to play Deer Lakes at 2 p.m. Saturday in their first trip to the PIAA finals.

“(We have) kids who are committed, kids who believe in the process,” Bocachica said. “It wasn’t always easy. We had to build and work toward this. It’s cliché, but hard work pays off. Here we are with an opportunity to do something for the first time ever.”

Hard work certainly has been part of the journey for West Catholic (19-10), which set up a challenging schedule to prepare for the grind of the Philadelphia Catholic League, considered by many to feature the best basketball in the state.

Coming off a 2021-22 season during which the Burrs went 21-6 and reached the PIAA quarterfinals, Bocachica set out to play some of the top teams in the state and beyond to prepare his team to compete for a long postseason run.

The 2022-23 slate included games against PIAA Class 6A finalists Reading and Roman Catholic, PIAA 4A runner-up Neumann-Goretti, PIAA 6A semifinalist Archbishop Wood, Mt. Zion Prep (Md.), Madison-Ridgeland Academy (Miss.) and Camden, one of the top teams in New Jersey.

“Very intentional. It’s something I’ve done since I got the job here,” said Bocachica, who played at LIU Brooklyn and spent three seasons and won two state titles as an assistant at his alma mater, Imhotep Charter, before taking over West Catholic before the 2018-19 season.

“We want to go out and play teams that are supposed to be good and play teams that can beat you. I’m not a big fan of playing teams just because. It doesn’t do anything for the kids. Kids need to be challenged. I think it’s important when we suit up that we are up for the challenge. We’re definitely battle-tested.”

The results helped develop a team that reached the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals and won the District 12 title for the first time since 1953.

“The past two years, we went to the (PCL) final four, got close,” said Bocachica, the 2022 Philadelphia Catholic League Coach of the Year. “(The year) ‘53 sounds like a long, long time ago. The school’s been around (100 years), so to go win a state title would mean a lot.”

Standing in West Catholic’s way will be Deer Lakes (21-8), which also is making its first trip to the state finals. Led by a talented senior quartet of Bryce Robson, Nate Litrun, Michael Butler and Nate Buechel and sharpshooting junior Billy Schaeffer and fellow junior Wayne Love, the Lancers won the first WPIAL championship in program history and now will try to add a PIAA Class 3A golden ball to the school’s trophy case.

“Really well-coached team that plays hard. They share the ball well. They got guys who can shoot the ball,” Bocachica said of the Lancers. “We’ve played a couple teams that are a lot like them. Every game presents a challenge. We’re just ready to compete.”

The Burrs are led by a pair of Division I-bound standouts: senior point guard Adam “Budd” Clark and senior 6-foot-5 forward Zion Stanford.

Stanford, a Temple commit, had 13 points and four rebounds in Tuesday’s 52-49 win over District 3 champion Trinity. He averages 17.6 points and 7.4 rebounds.

Clark, who de-committed from Coppin State after coach Juan Dixon was fired, had 13 points, six rebounds and four assists in the semifinals and averages 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists.

“Wonderful kids,” Bocachica said. “As much as they do score the ball for us, they play basketball the right way: great passers, great teammates, fun to be around, really well-rounded young kids.”

The Burrs’ distinct height advantage also features 6-6 freshman forward Kingston Wheatley, 6-5 junior guard Tariq Jennings, 6-2 senior guard Amyr Walker, 6-5 senior forward M.J. Branker and 6-3 senior guard Shemar Wilbanks-Acqui.

“They are very athletic, deep. They have great size. They like to pressure the ball quite a bit,” Deer Lakes coach Albie Fletcher said. “The big key for us will be to not turn the basketball over and give them easy opportunities, and then we have to shoot well from the perimeter. Those two things can allow us to stay in the game.”

Bill Hartlep is the TribLive sports editor. A Pittsburgh native and Point Park graduate, he joined the Trib in 2004, covering high school sports. He held various editing roles before assuming his current position in 2019. He can be reached at bhartlep@triblive.com.

Tags:

More High School Basketball

Passion for WPIAL basketball leads North Allegheny grad Hailey Zeise to Pine-Richland job
4th Tre Cunningham Memorial Basketball Tournament is biggest yet
7-time WPIAL champion coach Spencer Stefko steps down at North Allegheny
Longtime assistant promoted to 1st head coaching job with Yough boys
WPIAL basketball standout Meleek Thomas leaving Lincoln Park for Overtime Elite pro league