Montour boys looking for more postseason magic
The playoffs start in a little over a week, but the Montour boys basketball team has been treating its recent stretch of games as if it were already in the postseason.
Spartans coach Adam Kaufman has his team in a good spot for a deep playoff run similar to last year thanks to a difficult schedule, players stepping up and having a group peaking at the right time.
The Spartans hold the tiebreaker over South Fayette for the No. 2 spot in Section 5-AAA with its 7-2 record (12-6 overall), looking up at first-place Chartiers Valley.
“We're OK right now,” Kaufman said. “We lost those two tough ones to Chartiers (Valley), but they are obviously a really good basketball team.
“We played a lot better the second time than the first time so that was good to see. We have a long way to go and we have to keep getting better and better.”
The only two blemishes on their section record are at the hands of the Colts. Chartiers Valley beat Montour, 74-59, and, 65-55, earlier this season.
The biggest difference from this year's Montour team and last year's that won a WPIAL title and advanced to the PIAA semifinals is the loss of Devin Wilson, who now is a guard at Virginia Tech.
Kaufman said it's never easy to replace a player of Wilson's caliber, but as a unit, the Spartans have filled the void well.
“All those things are things you miss initially and hope someone can fill the void,” Kaufman said. “It doesn't have to be one guy, it can be a few guys. We have guys keeping us competitive in games and in practice and it's gotten better as year has gone on.”
Stepping up in Wilson's departure is a senior-laden group that has played well with its limited varsity experience.
Seniors Dustin Sleva and Kyle Kutchman are the only returning players who saw action last year. Kaufman said the duo has brought a calming, experienced demeanor to the locker room.
“Obviously, it's a lot different with some guys not being here,” Kutchman said. “Coach Kaufman told us he'll be our leader and tell us what to do. If we stick to his game plan I think we'll be good.”
Seniors Cameron Haubaugh and Devon Johnson and junior Josh Randall round out Kaufman's starting five. The group as a whole has improved in recent weeks, most notably cutting down on turnovers, dominating on the boards and shooting a staggering 55 percent from 3-point range.
Junior Tyrell Elam and sophomore Randall Labrie are Kaufman's go-to bench players that come in to provide a spark and play shutdown defense.
“At times this year, our lineup has been a work in progress and we've been a bit inconsistent,” Kaufman said. “This group has been playing good basketball. They've grown throughout the season.”
Sleva said when the playoffs start, he'll have a simple message to get across.
“I'll just tell the guys to be calm and don't let the game get bigger than it is,” he said. “You don't have to do anything different from the rest of the year. Just do you and we'll be fine.”
Kaufman put a handful of difficult nonsection opponents on the schedule this year to imitate a playoff atmosphere. In doing so, the Spartans have seen, by his account, every defense and offense that will be shown in the playoffs.
It's paid huge dividends as the Spartans have handled each task presented and are poised for another magical postseason run.
“We're just going to need to stay focused and do our job,” he said. “We don't need anybody to do anything different than they've done all season.
“We've been in playoff mode for a week now, so hopefully we stay in that same mode for a few more weeks.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.