Trib HSSN boys basketball team of the week: Week ending Feb. 23, 2020

Monday, February 24, 2020 | 7:37 PM

Last year was a transitional year for veteran WPIAL basketball coach Joe Salvino.

After more than three decades of coaching the Monessen boys basketball team to six district championships and nearly 650 wins, Salvino left to take over the head coaching job at Belle Vernon.

The Leopards made the playoffs but finished fourth in Section 3, ended up 8-15 overall and lost quickly in the opening round to Highlands.

However, as year two for Salvino in green and gold rolled around, he was excited about his team’s chances.

Belle Vernon finished second behind Uniontown with an overall mark of 16-6.

“Coming into the postseason, I felt very confident,” Salvino said. “I knew the kids adapted to my system at the end of last year, which carried over to this year. We improved as the season progressed. As the end of the regular seasoned approached, I felt we could compete with the best. I really looked forward to the postseason.”

Belle Vernon was the No. 6 seed in the 12-team Class 4A tournament and rolled past Derry, 65-44, in the first round.

“I knew we might start off a little sluggish after being off for 13 days, but we overcame the layoff and did what we had to do,” Salvino said.

That win advanced the Leopards into the district quarterfinals against No. 3 Quaker Valley, a team that had reached the WPIAL finals for three straight years.

The game was close throughout, but Belle Vernon trailed after each of the first three quarters. The Leopards then outscored the Quakers 17-10 in the final quarter to pull off the mild upset, 66-61.

“Our defense created key turnovers and we made key buckets and hit our foul shots in the end,” Salvino said.

One of the reasons for the Leopards’ turnaround this season and success in the postseason is the play of sophomore guard Devin Whitlock, a standout freshman a year ago when he helped Monessen reach the Class A semifinals.

Whitlock scored 21 points against Derry and added 14 points and 10 assists in the win over Quaker Valley.

“Devin is a key player with not only his scoring, but his ability to see the whole floor and get the ball to the right teammate,” Salvino said. “Plus, his defensive presence makes it very hard for other teams. His addition to our team is immeasurable.”

He joined a talented group of starters and a deep bench with the likes of Thomas Hepple, Jake Haney, Daniel Gordon, Tyler Kovatch, Joe Klancher and Dave Shernisky.

Senior Cam Nusser led the way on the score sheet for Belle Vernon on Saturday with 17 points against Quaker Valley.

“Nusser is a person who can score at any given time, which is a huge plus,” Salvino said. “Mitch Pohlot has been a big contributor rebounding as well as scoring. Jared Hartman is coming into his own at a great time as far as scoring and knowing his role. Hunter Ruokonen is a pure athlete who is a force defensively. He can rebound and score at any given time.”

On Wednesday, Belle Vernon faces another challenge in three-time defending champion New Castle. Salvino believes his team will not be intimidated by the golden legacy of the No. 7 Red Hurricanes.

“To me, it’s just another team we have to face. We have to play our game and be fundamentally sound.”

Previous Trib HSSN Teams of the Week:

Week 9 – Neshannock Lancers

Week 8 – Jeannette Jayhawks

Week 7 – Hempfield Spartans

Week 6 – Chartiers Valley Colts

Week 5 – Central Catholic Vikings

Week 4 – Blackhawk Cougars

Week 3 – Brentwood Spartans

Week 2 – Bishop Canevin Crusaders

Week 1 – South Allegheny Gladiators


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