Trib Cup: 'Playoff mentality' carries Fox Chapel boys into postseason
Fox Chapel basketball coach Zach Skrinjar led his team to its share of must-win games this season.
None will be more important than their date with Bethel Park in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs at North Hills on Friday.
The Foxes finished the regular season winning seven of their final nine games, good for third in Section 2-AAAA and a spot in the postseason tournament.
“I thought when we needed to play well, we did just that and played well,” Skrinjar said. “Basically, the second half of our season our playoff lives were on the line.
“We won three must-win games and showed that we deserve a shot at the end to see what kind of team we can be.”
This week, the FC boys basketball team is highlighted as the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team for posting a 17-5 record overall and 9-5 record in Section 2-AAAA. Fox Chapel is currently in eighth place in the Class AAAA standings.
Senior Matt D'Amico — the Foxes' all-time leading scorer — is one of the top scorers in the WPIAL and his 22 points per game combined with senior Brian Papich and his 16 ppg have been lethal for Fox Chapel. Seniors Connor Duquette and David Brown bring a gritty game that's focused around tough defense and rebounding.
Junior Billy Urso — the lone underclassman starter — plays guard and has filled the responsibility of the game manager.
“We have great ball movement and we're very unselfish,” Skrinjar said. “We have five guys who can score, but we have three guys who basically fill that role.
“Bottom line is all five do a good job playing with the system. That's distributing the ball and finding our open shots.”
Senior Quintin Wirginis, sophomore Mike Zappala and freshman Jake Livingston are the first players Skrinjar calls off the bench. He said he never hesitates calling their names.
“They've done a good job coming in and playing in some big spots, especially when guys have fouled out,” he said. “They've been on the court in pressure situations and really held their own. They've done a good job going out and not dropping off and filling voids when we need it.”
Skrinjar said preparation for the playoffs won't be much different than it's been all season. He said he tries to get his players off their game by showing them different defensive fronts. The Foxes have seen various zone and man-to-man sets and it will prove key in the postseason, especially, Skrinjar said, against Bethel Park.
“Against man or zone defense we've had the ability to move the ball to get the shot we want, when we want it,” he said. “That's going to be key especially against the defense that Bethel (Park) plays.”
For Fox Chapel, the WPIAL postseason will carry much of the same weight, pressure and preparation they've become accustomed to in recent weeks.
Its do-or-die mentality it's adopted will continue with higher stakes.
“As far as our expectations, since we've been in playoff mode for a few weeks now, we'll keep playing the way we have,” Skrinjar said. “We're comfortable in that role.
“I think it's going to play to our benefit playing with the pressure of it's win or go home. That's a good experience we gained from this year.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.