Trib HSSN boys basketball team of the week: Week ending March 14
Tuesday, March 17, 2020 | 6:16 PM
When 2019 ended with a pair of losses in the Bethel Park Holiday Tournament, Sto-Rox was 3-6 overall and tied for second place in Section 1-2A.
However, 2020 for the Vikings has been nearly perfect.
Sto-Rox won 15 games in a row, including victories over Brentwood and Shenango in the WPIAL Class 2A quarterfinals and semifinals.
The streak ended in the district championship game as Sto-Rox fell to defending champ Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, 81-72.
Was it tough for the Vikings to regroup in preparation for the PIAA postseason?
“It definitely was not difficult to refocus and realize what was at stake,” Sto-Rox coach Ryan Hughes said. “If anything, they were hungrier for a rematch (with Bishop Guilfoyle and OLSH).”
The Vikings needed to win three state playoff games to get another crack at the WPIAL champion Chargers. They won in the first two rounds before the playoffs were suspended.
After beating West Branch in the first round, Sto-Rox faced Lakeview in the second round and jumped out to an early 12-point lead on the Sailors after one quarter.
“From scouting, I knew we were more athletic than both West Branch and Lakeview,” Hughes said, “so I knew we could pressure them, and I didn’t think they would be able to match our intensity.”
Lakeview never could and fell to Sto-Rox, 75-51.
Leading the way for the Vikings was senior Malik Smith, as he pumped in a game-high 29 points.
“I’ve been saying all year I think Malik is one of the best all-around players in the WPIAL and he has shown that since he came back Jan. 1,” Hughes said. “We only lost one game since he came back and that was the championship game.”
Smith wasn’t alone in delivering a big effort in the 24-point rout of the District 10 champions Sailors.
“Can’t say enough about Jamil and Jamal Williams,” Hughes said. “They have been great all year and with being shorthanded, they really had to step up and they did. Plus with Myier Woodard and Jaidon Berry rounding out the five starters, they had to play most of the game.
“We got great help off the bench with Marcus Upshaw and Josh Jenkins, who hasn’t played many minutes that meant anything all year but had to play a key role on Wednesday.”
After yielding 81 points to OLSH in the district title game, the Sto-Rox defense has buckled up in the first two games of the state playoffs, giving up a combined 89 points to West Branch and Lakeview.
“Defense has definitely been our strong point, but I think we have a well-balanced team this year,” Hughes said. “These last two games, we really focused in and it’s starting to show.”
With school closed and no activities allowed, Hughes is hoping the rest will have his team fresh if the state playoffs continue. If play resumes, Sto-Rox is scheduled to face Bishop Guilfoyle in a Class 2A state quarterfinal.
“The one thing I told the guys after the Lakeview game was that we had the chance to change our destiny,” Hughes said. “We had the chance to right the wrongs we had over two years. We were destroyed by Bishop (Guilfoyle) last year. They ended our season and we wanted another shot at them with our whole team.
“Then, if we were able to get past them, we would have the rematch against OLSH who took away our dream of being a WPIAL champ. So for us to become a state champ would mean so much more because of the way we had to do it.”
Previous Trib HSSN Teams of the Week:
More Basketball• Senior spotlight: Highlands’ speedy Sarah Sawhook selects Seton Hill
• Chartiers Valley’s Aislin Malcolm named Trib HSSN Girls Basketball Player of the Year
• Plum’s Kennedie Montue named Valley News Dispatch Girls Basketball Player of the Year
• Highlands’ Johnny Crise named Valley News Dispatch Boys Basketball Player of the Year
• Southmoreland’s Gracie Spadaro wins Tribune-Review Westmoreland Girls Basketball Player of the Year honors