Westmoreland County boys basketball notebook: Ligonier Valley finally getting started

Thursday, January 21, 2021 | 5:53 PM

As of Wednesday, nine WPIAL boys basketball teams had yet to play a game this season due to covid-19 shutdowns and scheduling issues.

One was Ligonier Valley, which finally will make its District 7 debut Friday night when the Rams host South Allegheny at 7:15.

“We are very excited to finally start the season, and moving to the WPIAL,” Rams first-year coach Tim Gustin said. “It will be tough competition and unusual circumstances, but we are glad to just have an opportunity to play while still being safe.”

Ligonier Valley’s winter sports teams — basketball, wrestling and swimming — were put on pause from Nov. 18 to Jan. 11, partly because of a decision made by the school district and partly because Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a three-week shutdown of high school sports into early January.

Ligonier Valley athletes worked out on their own time to be ready for organized practices.

“These student-athletes have worked so hard to be the best they can at their sport,” Gustin said. “I’m glad they are getting a chance to display all that hard work this season.”

Gustin said some of his players, such as Matthew Marinchak and Isaac Neidbalson, played pick-up games at a local YMCA until all gyms were closed by Wolf.

“It was nice that the kids got together in a safe manner to still work and stay in shape,” Gustin said.

Milestone for Wetzel

Latrobe’s victory over Kiski Area on Tuesday was a milestone for longtime Wildcats coach Brad Wetzel. The 64-58 win was the 250th for Wetzel, who is in his 19th season. He is now 250-173 and has guided his alma mater to 14 playoff appearances and five section titles.

Hempfield ranked

With back-to-back wins over strong teams in Central Catholic and Penn-Trafford, and a near-upset of No. 1 Upper St. Clair, Hempfield has moved into the Tribune-Review Class 6A Top 5 rankings.

The Spartans (2-2) are No. 4 this week. They led Upper St. Clair at the half before the Panthers came back for a 73-70 win last Saturday.

When Hempfield defeated Central, the Vikings were ranked fourth.

Belle Vernon is the only other Westmoreland team in the rankings, checking in at No. 5 in Class 4A.

Where’s the scoring?

Big individual scoring performances have not been part of the 2020-21 season, at least in Westmoreland County. Only one boys player, Brandon Coury of Burrell, has topped the 30-point mark. He scored 38 in a 66-51 win over Kiski Area.

Balanced scoring has been more regular for teams.

Jeannette’s Keith Rockmore scored 28, while Norwin’s Michael Fleming and Luke Kimmich of Franklin Regional each had 27.

No girls players have scored 30 or more.

Strange days

Jeannette has been in a couple of odd games, and it has nothing to do with covid-19, masks, quiet gyms or gray home uniforms.

When the Jayhawks lost to Winchester Thurston, five starters fouled out, they were called for 37 fouls, and the Bears only had 14 field goals.

Jeannette lost, 65-60.

“I have never seen anything like that in 30-plus years of coaching,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said.

Maybe it has something to do with teams called the Bears.

Four nights later, Jeannette defeated Clairton, 37-22, holding the visitors scoreless in the fourth quarter. Jeannette only had eight players because four players are out for various reasons, including injuries.

Batts was pleased with the defensive effort of a group he called his “elite eight.”

He thinks the team’s offensive ups and downs will improve over time.

“The kids that are just basketball kids are going to be better in the beginning,” Batts said. “They have been working on their skills since the pandemic started. Two-sport players who were in football started (late). They got into a rhythm and boom, three-week pause. So those guys are working to get back to a comfort zone.”

Let’s (not) play two

Absent from local schedules this season are girls-boys doubleheaders in the larger classifications. While some schools, like Penn-Trafford, are in different Class 6A sections, limiting crossover opponents, others simply are limiting crowds.

What this has done is create more traditional schedules that include girls games on Mondays and Thursdays and the boys on Tuesdays and Fridays.

“We had seven doubleheaders scheduled at the beginning, but we’re probably only going to do maybe two,” Penn-Trafford athletic director Kerry Hetrick said. “It just did not work out this year.”

Greensburg Central Catholic is bucking the trend with two games against Monessen on Monday. The girls play at 6 p.m., the boys at 7:30.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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