Team-first mentality leading Highlands boys during postseason run

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Monday, February 24, 2020 | 7:02 PM


For the third time in just as many years, the Highlands Golden Rams are heading to the semifinals of the WPIAL playoffs.

This stage hasn’t been kind to the Golden Rams since their trip to the WPIAL championship in 2016-17. Two years ago, as the No. 2 seed in the Class 5A playoffs, they lost to No. 3 Franklin Regional, 48-40.

Last year, they battled through the Class 4A bracket as the fifth-seed but lost to No. 1 New Castle by just six points after gifting the Red Hurricanes a 23-point lead early in the game.

Each year is different, though, and this time around, the Golden Rams have a different attitude as they look to return to the WPIAL championship.

“We’re just coming out and playing for each other, and I think that’s the biggest difference from this year to last year,” senior guard Luke Cochran said. “There were plays made in games last year that shouldn’t have been made. There’s no blame on anyone either, but it’s so much more ‘we versus me’ this year.

“Everyone is making the extra pass and helping everyone out. It’s just a really good team atmosphere to be playing in.”

Highlands (20-3) showcased that team-first mentality Saturday in an 80-56 victory over No. 9 Ringgold. They were the only team in the WPIAL Class 4A bracket that had received a bye in the first round to move on the semis. No. 2 Knoch, No. 3 Quaker Valley and No. 4 Uniontown all lost their quarterfinal matchups.

“You see some other teams throughout the week come out sluggish or slow and not have the games they want,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “We came out ready, and we came out focused, which is a credit to our guys for having that level of focus.”

Now, the top-seeded Golden Rams have to get over the hump that has tripped them up in the past. Alongside the team-first mentality, Highlands has plenty of experience as it heads into a semifinal matchup against No. 5 Blackhawk (13-10) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at North Allegheny.

Cochran, along with seniors Johnny Crise and Korry Myers, who scored a career-high 25 in their quarterfinal game, make up a senior class that has been there the past two years. They battled back from a big deficit against New Castle, and they experienced that difficult loss to Franklin Regional.

This time, they are going to lean on what they’ve learned to help push them over the hump.

“We just gotta keep our head on straight and keep using that gut check from the losses we had this season,” Crise said. “We didn’t take those losses very lightly. So just gotta remember that feeling. That isn’t us, and we don’t want that feeling anymore.”

Since their loss to Knoch on Jan. 7, the Golden Rams have won 10 of their last 11 games. They lost their regular-season finale to Erie High on Feb 7, but they’ve shown no signs of letting up, and they don’t plan to do so anytime soon, especially with a trip to the Petersen Events Center on the line.

“We’ve been in a lot of high-leverage situations together,” Myers said. “Now we’re ready to put all the pieces together and get it done.”

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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