Short-handed Derry perseveres through trying season

Monday, February 7, 2022 | 10:04 PM

Down to seven players, a hobbled leading scorer and a section schedule wearing thin on opportunities, the Derry girls basketball team played on with flickering playoff hopes.

Yes, these Lady Trojans, who could have mailed it in weeks ago, kept reaching upward toward fourth place in the Section 1-4A standings.

The flame finally went out Monday night as the Trojans fell to visiting Burrell, 51-43. But this team still had a chance until its final section game.

“I am so proud of these girls,” coach Gene Brisbane said. “Through all we have been through, I haven’t had to deal with one bit of drama. They do what they can. They are going to be better people after what they have experienced this year.”

Not many teams have such a desolate-looking bench during games. Two reserves await their chance to play. Brisbane is a one-man coaching staff, so no assistants are taking up any space or providing input.

“It’s different,” said senior guard Tiana Moracco, who broke Derry’s career scoring record earlier in the season and accounts for more than half of her team’s points. “We’ve had some rough patches for sure. There was a time earlier in the season when practice wasn’t good and we weren’t putting in the effort we should’ve been. Coach Bris told me to have a little talk to the girls.”

The players-only, closed-door meeting lasted 20 minutes, but it was effective.

“Everybody’s effort went up from there,” Moracco said. “People stepped up. Everybody started putting in the work. I told them to put themselves in my shoes. I don’t like to lose.”

Instead of turning into a team chasing next year’s lottery pick, the Trojans (7-12, 4-8) won three of their next four games to climb into the playoff race.

Senior Faith Shean went down earlier in the season and had to have a third knee surgery. And junior Lauren Hood had to shut it down to have her sixth shoulder surgery.

Both were starters. That meant players such as sophomores Rachelle Marinchek, Samantha Gruska and Allie Chamberlain, juniors Sara Bungard and Mara Lewis, and freshman Jane Huss had to clock in.

Some of them, Moracco first and foremost, rarely rest. Foul trouble can be an issue.

“We started with nine and all nine want to be here,” Brisbane said. “Nobody has quit since I took over here. They understand it’s a commitment to be good.”

Brisbane never had a situation like this in his 20 years at Hempfield. He often had deep lineups with multiple upperclassmen.

“Everybody has figured out how to beat us,” Brisbane said. “But the girls are playing hard and competing. We set goals. We wanted to win more games than we did last year and that was three. They want to make the playoffs. The hardest thing is preparing for games with only seven girls. You can’t go 5-on-5, and you can’t simulate a press.”

Derry will drop to Class 3A next year but will have to move on without Moracco, a 24-point scorer who has more than 1,100 career points.

“We want to win for the girls who are here and for coach,” Moracco said.

Moracco, who has faced a number of double teams and diamond-and-1 defenses, has been dealing with an ankle injury she sustained Jan. 18 against Mt. Pleasant.

She didn’t want to leave the game the night of the injury and doesn’t want to miss any time. She has played with some pain but continues to lead the scoring.

“I had some tape on there, too, and when I pulled it off, it ripped some skin off,” Moracco said. “It’s been a tough year for that foot.”

Obviously, Derry can’t field a junior varsity team. Brisbane hopes to see improved participation in the offseason so the program can return to typical roster numbers.

Earlier this season, Brisbane registered his 400th career win coaching female players. The total also includes wins from a stint at Westmoreland County Community College.

“The people here have been very good to me,” Brisbane said of Derry. “People these days want to equate success to wins and losses. I don’t do that. It’s about the people. The teachers, administrators and parents have been really good to me.”

This team might stand out for Brisbane when his coaching days are over, but in a good way — no matter how this year ends.

“When I look back at this season,” he said, “I can smile about it.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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