Junior class dominates Baldwin boys' basketball roster
Joe Urmann had a front-row seat to the highly competitive talent in Section 4-AAAA in his first year as Baldwin's head coach.
Chartiers Valley captured the section crown with a 13-1 record, followed by Mt. Lebanon (12-2), Bethel Park (9-5), Peters Township (7-7) and Baldwin (6-8).
Upper St. Clair (5-9), Canon-McMillan (3-11) and Moon (1-13) rounded out the section standings.
Trinity has moved up from the Class AAA ranks and replaced Chartiers Valley in this year's section. The Hillers advanced to the WPIAL quarterfinals last season.
“One thing I'm particularly thankful for is having been able to coach our guys in the offseason,” Urmann, a former assistant coach at Mt. Lebanon, said. “Being hired so late last year put us in a tough spot in many ways as we began the season. So many things were so new, and we had little time to find our groove.
“It was nice to coach some spring and summer league games, and gain some experience in that way for our players.”
Urmann and the Highlanders rebounded from a seven-game losing streak at midseason last year by winning four of their final five games — including a 45-43 section victory at home versus rival Mt. Lebanon.
Baldwin ended up 9-13 overall last season.
“I think in Section 4, history shows that anybody can beat anybody on any particular night,” Urmann said. “There's no room for coming out flat, or a team is going to beat you. The coaches know how to win and do a great job scouting.
“Bethel has some great size and guard play, and Lebo has a bunch of shooters. Peters (Township) made a great run last year, and they return a lot of guys. Moon was so young last year; I look for them to make some noise as well. The list goes on ... I expect it to be competitive every night.”
Senior leadership at Baldwin will be supplied by four players in 2012-13 — 6-foot guard A.J. Greco, 5-11 guard Stefan Ayers, 6-3 guard/forward Jake Michaels, and 5-10 guard/forward Dan Blaney.
The majority of this year's squad is comprised of juniors, including Arnes Bajgora, a 6-5 forward; Jimmy Walsh, a 6-foot guard/forward; Logan Lutz, a 5-11 guard/forward; Brandon Boker, a 5-10 guard; Shane Perko, a 6-foot guard/forward; Steve Greiner, a 5-5 guard; and Tony Lucic, a 6-2 forward.
Top sophomore prospects include the likes of 6-foot forward Doug Altavilla, 5-10 guard Ethan McClure, 5-11 guard Morgan Schmitt, 6-8 forward Sterling Jenkins, 5-10 guard Antonio Parente and 5-11 guard Sven Zepic.
Among the freshman hopefuls are Anthony Starzynski, a 6-foot guard; and Nick Altavilla, a 5-11 guard.
“We have players who have all bought in to what our philosophies will be on both ends of the floor,” Urmann said. “The guys are very coachable and eager to learn. Many of these players worked very hard in the offseason on improving specific aspects of their game.
“I'm incredibly thankful and lucky to be in a position to coach such hard-working kids with the amazing support of their parents and community.”
Baldwin opens the 2012-13 season Friday against Fox Chapel in the first round of the North Hills tip-off tournament.
North Hills and Wilkinsburg will meet in the other first-round matchup.
The tournament's consolation and championship rounds will take place the next day.
“Right now we're trying to focus on getting better every day in practice, and really competing against one another,” Urmann said.
“It's difficult sometimes as a coach because you want to try to do so many things, but we're starting to find our identity based on our personnel. We're confident it will pay dividends down the road.”
Baldwin will play back-to-back nonsection games on Monday and Tuesday against Hopewell, at home, and Connellsville, on the road.
The Highlanders' section opener is slated for Dec. 14 at Moon. The local squad will play three section games in the month of December.
“We are working as a coaching staff to identify the strengths of our personnel so we can put them in a place where they can be successful,” Urmann said. “All the teams that find themselves in the playoff mix generally have the better defense, and we are trying to become more aware of some of our defensive statistics.
“Offensively, the execution in the half-court is a work in progress. It will sharpen as the year moves on, but in Section 4 we know that these games are going to be a grind. Most of the players are extremely hard-nosed and griddy, which is a tribute to the great coaches in the section.
“We need to be able to defend and take care of the ball so that we don't beat ourselves. That's the focus right now.”
Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or firstname.lastname@example.org.