Sewickley Academy boys building confidence on basketball court

By: HSSN Staff
Friday, January 4, 2019 | 7:03 PM


With three new starters in its lineup, Sewickley Academy’s boys basketball team knew it’d go through an adjustment period.

The Panthers endured it right away as they dropped games to North Catholic (70-65) and Butler (71-56) to open the season. The team found a good rhythm after those two losses with four straight victories. The winning streak stopped with a 62-59 defeat at Aliquippa.

“I think, in our first two games, we were nervous because we didn’t have the experience of playing together,” Sewickley Academy senior Nate Ridgeway said. “In the third and fourth quarters against North Catholic, we gave them a run for their money. We came out strong against Butler in the first half. Pretty quickly, we saw we could play together, which was good.

“As we’ve practiced and played, we’ve jelled together as a team. We’re moving the ball well and playing better defensively. We’re not going into any games nervous now. We’re very comfortable and having a lot of fun. I think we’ll be very successful in the future.”

Junior Isiah Warfield and Ridgeway are the lone starters back from last year’s WPIAL Class 2A championship squad. Warfield was a first-team all-state pick, while Ridgeway was a second-team all-state selection. Both continue to lead the way this year for Sewickley Academy (4-3).

“I am very pleased with how our team is progressing. We have two of the best players around, if not in the entire state. They have been incredible. They are averaging in the 20-point range and both are our leading rebounders and good at distributing the ball,” Sewickley Academy coach Win Palmer said. “What’s been nice is we’re blending well into a really good team.”

Max Belt, Donald Belt, Rees Blaylock, John DelVecchio and Cole Karlik have responded with increased roles.

“I’ve seen the progression in those guys who either didn’t play last year or not many minutes. Those guys are progressing so much,” Palmer said. “Max and Donald Belt are playing so great for us. Donald has scored 17 or 18 points in a couple games, and Max is turning into a premiere defender and a guy who can score. Rees has turned into a tough guy and who rebounds and does a lot of the ‘dirty’ work for us. John can defend and Cole can come off the bench and help us. I’ve been very pleased with the top seven and looking to see who will develop into that eighth guy.

“I think our team is very tough. That’s what I like about this group — they play hard every day in practice and in every game. We just need the experience of playing together.”

The Panthers have plenty chances left to enhance their chemistry on the floor. In addition to their section foes, they face top nonsection foes in Freeport, Kiski School, Chartiers Valley and Pine-Richland.

“We always try to schedule really tough nonsection opponents so we can prepare ourselves for playoffs,” Ridgeway said. “We like the challenge and competition. We’re always looking forward to those games.”

Familiarity has led to better ball security for Sewickley Academy. Palmer expects it to continue.

“We’ve had very unselfish play offensively. We’ve cut back drastically on turnovers, too. In our first two games, we had way too many. Since then, we’re averaging less than 10 per game. I think that’s just a product of playing together,” he said. “We play aggressively and we can’t stop playing aggressively; we just have to learn to be better with the ball.”

Palmer and his assistants have enjoyed watching the team mesh together.

“Our coaching staff is having a blast because these guys are so coachable. We’re doing some different things this year to adjust to this year’s personnel. We’re not putting any pressure on ourselves right now, in terms of wins and losses. We’re just learning how to piece it together right now so we’re dynamic come playoff time.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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