Versatile Penn-Trafford looks to threaten in WPIAL playoffs

Friday, February 8, 2019 | 6:54 PM

After a two-year hiatus from postseason play, the Penn-Trafford boys basketball team will make its return to the WPIAL playoffs this month after its third-place finish in Section 3-6A.

It’s been a substantial turnaround for the Warriors (12-8, 6-4). In each of the last two seasons, the program lost 16 games.

However, this season’s team has done plenty to put those results in the rear-view mirror. And as coach Jim Rocco’s team cruises into the playoffs winners in three of its last four contests, confidence is growing.

“I think we’re building the right momentum,” Rocco said.

“Momentum is created with a lot of efficiency, and I think we’ve become a lot more efficient. Our rotations are better defensively. We’re just starting to hit at the right time. We’ve taken a few lumps against some good teams, but I think when you have kids that can shoot it like we do, I think you got a chance.”

The Warriors’ commitment to Rocco’s system oin his fourth year at the helm has been paying dividends in wins. It could help them serve up an upset special as one of the lower-seeded teams in the playoffs.

As a guard-heavy team, Penn-Trafford is not afraid to fire from deep.

In its last section contest of the season, against Norwin, it hit 10 of 19 3-point shots.

The run-and-gun offense of the Warriors relies on senior Kevin Stinelli and junior Zach Rocco.

The guards run the show with efficiency and provide a one-two scoring punch as Stinelli leads the team with 17.5 points per game, and Rocco averages 15.

Yet it’s the duo’s ability to distribute that helps make Penn-Trafford’s offense tick. Fellow starters Luke Fabac and Chris Abreu have a knack for slashing to the hoop, and Stinelli and Rocco are adept at distributing to help their slashers find open looks around the rim.

“We’ve all been getting used to playing with each other more and more over the past few years. There’s just not a lot of guys here who make the ball sticky on offense, now,” Zach Rocco said.

“We all have a good feel for each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we know the right situations and timing when it comes to getting each other the ball and finding the open shot.”

The team’s fifth starter, Brayden Puskar, is the only forward on the 20-man roster. Puskar may not posses the shooting ability of the rest of the Warriors starters, but coach Rocco describes him as a bear in the paint.

Reserve guards Jordan Sabol, Cam DePalma and Hunter Destefano provide solid outside shooting ability and enough skill to handle and pass the ball efficiently.

Coach Rocco says he believes the group is greater then the sum of its parts. With plenty of versatility at hand, it could exploit enough matchups to take a highly ranked opponent down come playoff time.

“It’s all about matchups,” the floor boss said.

“We can mix it up. We can pressure. We can gap it up and sit back. We can slow down and execute, and we can push it in the open floor. When you have kids that can really move the ball around, it’ll make it tough for opponents.”

Pairings were to be announced Tuesday night, past deadline for this edition, and playoffs start Feb. 15.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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