South Hills Record boys basketball preview: Baldwin boys thinking big

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Sunday, December 4, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Basketball season is underway. Here’s a look at the three boys teams in the South Hills Record coverage area:

Baldwin

Baldwin boys basketball coach Jeff Ackermann has lofty expectations for 2022-23.

“Our goals this year are to continue to move the program forward,” Ackermann said. “We want to compete for the section championship and the WPIAL championship. We have several guys back that played or started last year.”

James Wesling, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, developed into one of the WPIAL’s top players last season, averaging 18 points per game.

“As a team, our goal this year is to win the section. We also hope to compete for a WPIAL and state championship,” Wesling said. “We want to win as many games as possible and keep the season going as far as we can.”

Wesling exploded for a school-record 48 points Jan. 18 in a section win over host Bethel Park.

“A personal goal of mine is to become more of a complete player. I want to be one of the top players in the WPIAL,” Wesling said. “I also hope to become a 1,000-point (career) scorer this year. But the overall goal is to win the section and compete for a WPIAL and state championship.”

Wesling is complemented in the backcourt by junior Nate Richards (11 ppg) and sophomore Nate Wesling, James’ younger brother.

“We were hoping that James would raise his overall game up to another level,” Ackermann said last season, “and he has definitely done that for us. Also, we hoped Nate would be able to run the show and distribute the ball and score when we need it, and he has also been great for us.

“My expectations for James (this season) would be to continue to grow as a player. James has improved each season. He became a much better all-around scorer last year. Now he needs to grow his game in every area. He needs to really become a better defender, a better rebounder and an overall leader. I know he wants to be a great player and is on pace to become that player. This is his chance to make a huge difference in this program.”

A.J. Cherico, a senior forward, and Joey Carr, a senior guard, had impact seasons for the Highlanders in 2021-22. Cherico, Carr and the older Westling are four-year varsity players.

Also returning to the Baldwin basketball program this season is senior Christian Forgacs, a 6-foot-5 forward who devoted last winter preparing for baseball season in a diligent weight-lifting program.

“We have Christian back to play this year,” Ackermann said. “He gives us a big body, and he’s strong.”

Joining Forgacs in the frontcourt is Matt Schenk, a 6-3 sophomore.

“Matt has worked really hard and is much improved,” Ackermann said. “Matt was primarily a JV kid last year as a freshman but has showed us he is ready to play varsity. We have other players as well that we are excited about.”

Baldwin took third place in Section 2-6A with a 6-4 record last year, one game behind co-section champions Upper St. Clair (7-3) and Mt. Lebanon (7-3).

Four of the teams in this year’s section are holdovers from last season. The two changes are Hempfield and Norwin have replaced Bethel Park and Peters Township.

“Our team is much more experienced this year than past years,” said Wesling, the senior. “We have guys returning for their second, third and even fourth year of varsity basketball. We are becoming a stronger defensive team to help build on our offensive strong suits.”

Baldwin strung together a pair of four-game winning streaks in 2021-22, one early and one at midseason.

The Highlanders advanced to the WPIAL playoffs, where they lost to North Allegheny in the first round.

Brentwood

Brentwood’s boys basketball team qualified for the playoffs for a fifth straight year in 2021-22, finishing third in Section 4-3A behind Washington and Brownsville.

“We had a strong regular season,” coach Dan Thayer said. “We lost a lot of players and points to graduation the past two seasons. With that loss, we really weren’t sure what type of team we would have.

“This is going to be a growing year for our team. We have three returning players that saw significant minutes last season. We have run into some early bad luck with a number of players being injured. Because of this we are hopeful we will make significant strides as a team as the season progresses.”

The Spartans moved into Section 2-3A this year and with the change came six new section opponents: Keystone Oaks, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Seton LaSalle, South Park, Steel Valley and Sto-Rox.

Two key players back from last year’s team are senior guard Carter Betz and senior forward Talan Kammermeier.

“Carter was our leading scorer last season. We want Carter to continue to score for us but also set up others for easy baskets,” Thayer said. “We hope he will grow as a leader this season on the court and in practice. This will hopefully drive us to a successful season.”

The 5-foot-10 Betz is a three-sport standout in basketball, soccer and track. He hopes this year’s team is able to make a deeper run in the WPIAL playoffs. He said the Spartans will utilize a fast break whenever possible.

“Our expectations have to be to try repeating last year with hopes of making it further into the playoffs,” Betz said. “We are looking to move the ball down the court fast, getting a rebound or a steal and going with the fast break.

“A personal goal is to help my team to be better (than last season).”

Betz plans to continue his basketball career at a four-year college, where he will study accounting in the business field.

Another player to watch for the Spartans is Forrest Betz, a sophomore guard and Carter’s younger brother.

“Forrest will move into the starting lineup. He played a major role off the bench as a freshman,” Thayer said. “We look for Forrest to take some big steps forward this season. He should provide us ball-handling, scoring and some leadership on the floor.”

Brentwood’s veteran floor boss used a 10-player rotation a year ago that also included Shane Palmer, a junior forward, and Tavian Miller, a senior guard/forward.

“Our early season goals are to get healthy and to start to get the younger players more and more comfortable playing the game,” Thayer said. “Our long-range goals would include making the playoffs, but more importantly, creating a foundation for future teams.”

Top newcomers to the Brentwood program include Aguek Deng, a senior forward, Ian Harrington, a junior forward, and Colton Rosing, a sophomore guard.

The Spartans finished first in two tournaments last year, at their own tip-off event and at a holiday classic at Northgate. Carter Betz was voted boys MVP at the Brentwood boosters’ annual tip-off event.

After winning four of their last five games, Brentwood wrapped up the 2021-22 regular season with a 15-7 record and received the No. 12 seed for the WPIAL playoffs. The Spartans lost to South Allegheny in the first round.

“We are looking forward to an exciting and challenging season as we move into a new and very competitive section,” Thayer said.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s boys basketball team has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for four consecutive seasons.

The Jaguars are aiming to advance past where they ended up last year when they lost a first-round decision to Mars.

“We want to build on how we finished last year,” coach Dom DeCicco said. “We were so young, so it took a while for the kids to understand varsity basketball, but by the end of the year, they learned how to compete.

“I would say how we shoot could be our strength. We have a lot of options that can score.”

TJ finished 5-5 in Section 1-5A and 8-15 overall, winning four of its final five regular-season games.

“We always have the same goals.” DeCicco said, “to compete for the playoffs and the section and WPIAL titles.”

The Jaguars have five players who saw starting time a year ago. They are Ryan Lawry, a senior point guard, and four juniors — guards Evan Berger, Sean Sullivan and Noah Prosser plus forward Kam Eggerton.

The 6-foot-3 Berger, a third-year starter, led the team in scoring with a 15 ppg average. The sharp-shooting backcourt player is looking to score his 1,000th career point this season.

“I expect Evan to be one of the best players in the WPIAL,” DeCicco said.

Berger’s season-long goal is to capture the section championship. The Jaguars are members of Section 1-5A again, along with Bethel Park, Connellsville, Peters Township, Ringgold and Trinity.

“I expect to win the section and make a run in the playoffs this year,” Berger said. “We’ve all been playing together since the third grade, so we know how each other plays and now everyone has varsity experience.”

Prosser and Sullivan both averaged around 10 ppg last season.

Providing depth and adding more potential punch to the lineup will be senior guards Dom Putigano and Kody Karcher, juniors Brody Evans (F) and Joe Mendyk (G), and sophomores Noah Kasser (G) and Kooper Kamberis (C).

“The underclassmen on last year’s team all played a ton and got better as the year went on,” DeCicco said.

Kamberis at 6-4 will give the Jaguars height in the middle when he’s on the floor.

“We are a very undersized 10,” DeCicco said. “We have to be fundamentally sound to be able to rebound the basketball.”

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