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Leechburg boys basketball team seeks stability

| Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013, 11:12 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Leechburg's Ben Ritchie looks to pass the ball during practice at the high school Friday, Nov. 29, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Leechburg boys basketball coach Damian Davies gives instructions during practice Friday, Nov. 29, 2013.

Leechburg boys basketball coach Damian Davies never fails to be enthusiastic about his team, and this season is no different.

“Our goals are always to be competitive, to feel like we've done everything we can to make ourselves successful,” Davies said. “You can put your head on the pillow and rest easily. That helps us deal with (Class) A basketball.”

Last season, the Blue Devils earned a spot in the WPIAL playoffs with an 8-13 record (3-7 in Section 4-A).

That team worked most of its offense through then-senior forward Jake Iellimo.

“He averaged a double-double every game he played. He was a powerhouse,” Davies said. “This year we have a nice balance. That's the good thing about having a team that has played a lot together. The chemistry is real good.”

Ben Ritchie, a three-year starter, is the top returnee.

Senior guard Alex Sipolino has grown a few inches since the last time he was on the court.

“I wish that happened more often for us,” Davies said with a laugh.

Taylor Oberdorf rounds out the returning senior starters. Oberdorf's ball skills, offensively and defensively means he will see a lot of action around the ball.

“We've been playing with younger guys so long. We have a nice group of older guys this season,” Davies said. “I hope we're more stable handling different situations and pressures because of that.”

Despite his 5-foot-8 frame, senior Wesley Gibson is classified as a “utility man” by Davies.

“He can play almost any position. He's a smart kid,” Davies said. “We can definitely use him.”

Leechburg also sports a few younger players who will make an impact on the team.

Junior contributors are Randy Smail, who shoots the ball well; Jordan Cominos, who brings a presence down low; and Ryan McDermott, who has shown improvements from last season.

Sophomore point guard Blake Steininger also saw some time in the starting lineup last season.

A proposed move to District 6, originally passed but was struck down in July, would have been most beneficial to the basketball program.

“There are no real rivalries for us. We would have had some rivalries,” Davies said. “Saltsburg could have been a big rival. Similar size, similar type of school. One of the things is we are going to do is play some teams from District 9 this season.”

Traditional rivals for Leechburg, such as Springdale, Riverview and Apollo-Ridge, play in Class AA. The only time those teams would appear on the Blue Devils' schedule is for tournaments and nonsection games.

“Familiarity creates excitement. Familiarity brings the communities together.,” Davies said. “Half the time, your section changes in the WPIAL. (Rivals) bring their community to our gym. We bring our community to their gym.”

No matter the league Leechburg finds itself in, the popularity of the program has not dwindled. It doesn't look like that is going to change any time soon.

“I think Leechburg loyalty is there. That's what I love about it. We always pack the house,” Davies said. “I think people are excited. If not, they will be after Thursday.”

Dave Yohe is a freelance writer.

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