Starting 5: A guide to the A-K Valley boys high school basketball season

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Thursday, December 5, 2019 | 5:03 PM


STORYLINES

1. Back in Business

Damian Davies has led the Leechburg boys basketball team to a WPIAL championship in the past. Now he’s back to try to do it again. After being rehired in June, the longtime Leechburg coach has a team filled with size, speed and talent capable of making a run.

2. One Last Shot

Johnny Crise and Luke Cochran of Highlands have been playing basketball together since they were toddlers, but they haven’t had the opportunity to win WPIAL gold yet. This year is their last shot, and the Golden Rams have the supporting cast to do so.

3. Craving Hershey’s Chocolate

Four A-K Valley teams made the PIAA playoffs last season: Fox Chapel (6A), Highlands (4A), Deer Lakes (3A) and Leechburg (A). They’ll look to return to the state playoffs this season and maybe take their run one step further.

4. Some New and Some Old

Four teams in the A-K Valley will have a new leader on the bench this season. Burrell (Mike Fantuzzo), Plum (Mark Marino) and St. Joseph (Hart Coleman) all have new coaches, and Davies is returning to Leechburg. The first year can be the toughest sometimes, so how will these teams fair?

5. Run and Gun

There are a few teams throughout the A-K Valley that will look to get up and down the court, playing at a fast pace with plenty of legs to carry them. Look for those electric offenses in Highlands, Kiski, Leechburg and Knoch.

TEAMS TO WATCH

1. Highlands

The Golden Rams were on the brink of a WPIAL championship appearance last year. They erased a large deficit against New Castle in the Class 4A semifinals and almost punched their ticket but came up just short. With seniors Johnny Crise, Luke Cochran and a solid supporting cast, Highlands will look to take that next step.

2. Knoch

The Knights surprised people last year. This year, expectations are even higher, and with a talented senior class, Ron McNabb and his team won’t be able to sneak up on people. They are ready for the challenge.

3. Leechburg

Damian Davies is back at the helm of a talented Leechburg roster and the Blue Devils are ready to make a run with a mixture of talent and speed that could help them rise the ranks in Class A.

4. Kiski Area

The Cavaliers will be young, but they will be fast. Expect Kyrell Hutcherson, 6-foot-7 forward Jason Baker and Central Catholic transfer Kenny Blake to play big roles this season if the Cavaliers get going.

5. Fox Chapel

The Foxes made a run to the PIAA Class 6A playoffs last year and only graduated two seniors. This season, they return a roster full of talent, depth and determined individuals. A defensive mindset could take Fox Chapel far into the playoffs after finishing two games short of a section championship last season.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Johnny Crise

Highlands, sr. F: The Highlands big man has big hops and has helped the Golden Rams reach new heights. He averaged 16.9 points a game last year and was a major presence in the paint.

2. Andrew Sullivan

St. Joseph’s, jr., G: After averaging a team-high 15.5 points per game last year, Sullivan is ready to lead his team in the right direction this year with a new coach at the helm.

3. Scott Fraser

Knoch, sr., G: The talented two-way player helped Knoch reach the WPIAL quarterfinals last year by averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds a game. He’ll be crucial to his team’s success this season.

4. Luke Cochran

Highlands, sr., G: Cochran completes Highlands’ one-two punch. The consistent guard averaged 18.9 points per game last year and dished out alley-oop assists to Crise on the regular. He’ll take another step in his senior season.

5. Keighton Reese

Apollo-Ridge, jr. G: Don’t leave him open behind the 3-point arc. Reese set a school record with 80 3-pointers last season, including 10 in one game. He averaged 16.3 points per game.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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