Trib Cup: After winning section title, Central Valley boys turn focus to WPIAL glory
In just its fourth year of existence, the Central Valley boys basketball team claimed its first outright Section 2-AAA title this winter.
At 19-3 overall and 12-0 in section play, the Warriors were happy to make school history, but understand that their ultimate goal lies in the postseason.
“We definitely didn't celebrate it,” Central Valley coach Brandon Ambrose said. “We did it, we enjoyed it and then we moved on because the kids realize they have other things they're interested in accomplishing.”
Now, with the No. 2 seed in the Class AAA playoffs, the Warriors are set to face No. 10 Montour in the quarterfinals Friday at West Allegheny after defeating West Mifflin, 62-42, in the first round.
The Warriors are highlighted as the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature team this week after boasting their best record in the school's four-year history while also currently standing in first place in the school standings.
With five seniors and as many returning starters from last season's team, Central Valley is a balanced squad that does not feature one go-to scorer, but instead relies on steady contributions from each player on the court.
That type of balance was on display in the Warriors' opening-round game against West Mifflin, where junior guard John George led the team with 13 points, senior forward Tony Gates added 11 and senior guard Mike Sims chipped in with 10.
Those three players, along with senior guard Jake St. George and senior center Matt Kline, are all capable of scoring double-figures.
“It's a crapshoot to see who's going to be our leading scorer every night; you just don't know,” Ambrose said. “That's just a tribute to the balance and depth we have, also the unselfishness. You don't have guys too often forcing shots.”
This year's senior players, who were freshmen when Central Valley was formed as a merger of Center and Monaca high schools, has never advanced past the WPIAL quarterfinals but has set its sights higher this season.
“With this group, their goals are so lofty that I don't want to say there's more pressure but there certainly is a lot of focus,” Ambrose said. “They know where they want to go and they know how they're going to get there.”
After earning the tag of co-section champions last season, the Warriors fell to Kittanning in the first round of the playoffs, a memory they will carry with them as they tip off at 8 p.m. against Montour.
“I think they learned a lot from it,” Ambrose said. “Not only about how to prepare for the playoff game, but also just the intensity of a playoff game, the pressure of a playoff game. It's a lot different than playing a regular season game and I think that's translated into this year, hopefully.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.