Penn Hills boys steer clear of early season roadblocks

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Thursday, January 2, 2020 | 5:42 PM


Going into the season, Dan DeRose knew his Penn Hills boys basketball team was going to be tested with a tough regular season schedule.

DeRose knew his team would be battle ready when it came to the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs thanks to a tough nonsection schedule as well.

Off-the-court issues have led to inconsistent play on the court in the early part of the season, too. Still, even with the adversity of two players being suspended for violation of team rules and the flu running through the team during the Christmas break, the Indians (5-2, 2-0) have managed to escape December without a major disaster.

“It’s been an up-and-down start to season. We’ve faced some extreme adversity to start the season and hopefully we will move on from that,” DeRose said.

The Indians started the season with a big 66-65 win over Pine-Richland in the Lincoln Park Hall of Fame Tournament at Geneva College on Dec. 7.

Senior guard Kyree Hairston-Mitchell led the Indians with 19 points, while junior forward Wes Kropp finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.

The Indians followed the big win with a 72-32 win over Perry at home on Dec. 9. However, Penn Hills had to start dealing with the off-the-court issues prior to the 66-45 loss at Fox Chapel on Dec. 12. Two players were suspended for four games starting with the matchup with Fox Chapel.

Penn Hills rebounded by handing Highlands its first loss after an 84-69 win in the Clash at New Castle Tournament on Dec. 14. Kropp led four Indians in double-figures with 26 points in the win. Hairston-Mitchell (18 points), junior Deondre Mitchell (17) and junior guard Eddie Daniels (14) all reached double-figures.

“I think the Highlands team, even if they are in 4A, are one of the top five teams in the WPIAL,” DeRose said. “We played exceptional that night and handled it pretty well. I expect them to compete for the 4A championship.

“It’s a good test to see where you might be laying. When you’re challenged all the time, it’s going to be about consistency.”

The next time out, the Indians won their first Section 1-5A game with a 77-61 victory at home against Gateway on Dec. 17. Three nights later, the Indians escaped with a 74-71 road win at Laurel Highlands.

The win came with a scare as many thought Hairston-Mitchell suffered a season-ending injury. However, he didn’t miss any time as he played in the 59-57 loss to Central Catholic on Dec. 23 where many of the Indians were battling the flu.

Through the first seven games of the season, Kropp led the team with 16.3 and 6.6 rebounds per game and averaged 1.4 blocks.

Hairston-Mitchell averaged 15.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game. Mitchell is third in scoring with 11.3 points per game, with most of his damage coming from behind the 3-point line as he shoots 38% from deep. Daniels is fourth with 11.1 points per game and is active defensively with 2.3 steals per game.

“We’ve got to make sure we police ourselves and we do a better job the task at hand,” DeRose said. “If you look across the WPIAL, anybody is beating anybody any given night.

“They need to understand that nobody is completely standing out. They should embrace that we should be one of the top teams at the end. It’s up to them as long as they keep to continue to work.”

The Indians are third in Class 5A as they average 67.9 points per game, but they will continue to work on the defensive end as they are allowing 60.4 points per game this season. Penn Hills will now turn their focus to the meat of their section schedule with tough nonsection games against Latrobe, Butler and Erie Prep sprinkled through the remainder of the season.

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