Penn Hills basketball programs learn tough postseason lessons

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Sunday, March 15, 2020 | 6:01 AM


Heading into the WPIAL playoffs, the Penn Hills boys basketball team had a six-game winning streak and earned the No. 1 seed in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

However, the success was short-lived as the Indians fell, 62-60, to eventual WPIAL champion Laurel Highlands, the eighth seed, in the quarterfinals Feb. 21. The Indians lost on a game-winning runner with 3.5 seconds left by Keandre Cook.

With the Mustangs winning the WPIAL title, the Indians (18-6) earned a spot in the PIAA Class 5A playoffs, but they lost to Obama Academy, 73-63, in the first round March 6.

“I told the kids before we played (Laurel Highlands) that I thought whoever won our game in the playoffs, that was going to be the team to win the whole thing,” coach Dan DeRose said. “They weren’t a very good matchup for us. They gave us some trouble inside and with (Rodney) Gallagher being a pretty good guard handling our pressure.

“I tried to explain to these kids it’s all about matchups. We had another chance to prove we had a bad night, and we proved to have another bad night with turning the ball over 25 times against Obama.”

Even though the Indians didn’t go on the postseason run they expected, DeRose was proud of the individual successes of his players.

Senior guard Kyree Hairston-Mitchell (15.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 4.8 rpg) and junior forward Wes Kropp (16.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.5 bpg) led the Indians as both earned first-team all-section honors in Section 1-5A. Junior guard Eddie Daniels (12.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and freshman guard Daemar Kelly (8.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) earned second-team honors.

During the season, DeRose eclipsed 100 wins at Penn Hills in his fifth season with the program. DeRose, who was named the coach of the year in Section 1-5A, led the Indians to a section title for the fourth time in five years.

“They need to understand there are certain things they need to improve to make sure what happened this year doesn’t happen next year,” DeRose said. “We will probably be in the position with returning more players than everybody else. Obviously, Kyree is going to be a big loss. Just because we’re returning guys doesn’t necessarily put us right there.”

The Penn Hills girls program had a difficult up-and-down season that ended with some positives as the Indians look towards the offseason.

Penn Hills (12-13) won four straight games in order to clinch a spot in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. The win streak included a 55-28 upset over Woodland Hills at home in the season finale Feb. 7.

“I think it was just more of us coming together as a team,” coach Robert Cash said. “They picked up a bond for each other late in the season. They were there for each other. I think it started in practice with our effort and energy.

“Our attitudes changed. They are locked in and gave it all they had. We knew we had a good team with good players, but it was about coming together as a team.”

Penn Hills carried the momentum into the WPIAL playoffs with a 43-35 win over Plum in the first round Feb. 18. However, the Indians’ journey ended after a 57-37 loss to Chartiers Valley, the eventual WPIAL champion.

In the PIAA Class 5A playoffs, the Indians lost to Trinity, 54-29, in the first round March 7.

“I’m very pleased with how the season ended,” Cash said. “We had an up-and-down year, but we made a nice run at the end of the season to get a playoff berth. We were able to focus and get some things that we wanted to get done.”

The Indians were led by a trio of juniors whom Cash expects to take steps forward as they head to their senior year. Junior guard Amoni Blackwell earned first-team honors in Section 3-5A.

Junior guard Jasmyn Golden earned second-team honors, while junior guard Jayla Golden made honorable mention.

Cash will look to replace the rebounding and defense brought by senior forward Niya Moore.

“We have to become better shooters,” Cash said. “We have to handle the ball better and be better decision makers. We want to be better teammates. We were at our best whenever everybody was picking everyone up.”

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