Undefeated Sewickley Academy boys ready for tough tests
The 8-0 record of Sewickley Academy's boys basketball team is unquestioned, but the quality of the Panthers' early-season opponents left something to be desired.
That began to change for the Panthers last week, and the tests only get greater once Christmas passes.
The Panthers won at home against Section 1-A challenger Eden Christian, 78-58, and backed that up with a road win over Class AAAA City League squad Brashear, 74-61, to give coach Win Palmer's team its best-quality wins of the young season last week.
Palmer didn't dispute that the team's first five wins — all by 37 points or more — weren't exactly attention grabbers, but he said those games, like the team's tough upcoming matchups, all serve a purpose toward building a contender in Class A.
“We started off the season and built some confidence,” Palmer said. “So many players play fall sports for us, and so many other teams that we play against play in fall (basketball) leagues. We don't do any of that.
“Our soccer players missed the first week of practice, and we were bringing guys in from other sports. I thought we've done a good job working through the start of the season, and the success certainly helps.”
Palmer was happy about his team's 78 points scored against Eden Christian, usually a solid defensive team, but he was most excited about the way his team dealt with its first adversity against Brashear.
The Panthers trailed by 11 in the third quarter against the Bulls, a team that boasts wins over solid Mt. Lebanon and OLSH squads. Sewickley Academy turned up the defensive pressure, and that led to a 24-point swing over the last quarter-plus in SA's 13-point win.
“That shows our guys can beat a quality team. We ran the floor effectively, and we pressured the ball very well. Given the two teams and the type of athletes (Brashear) has, that's not the way you'd expect us to get back into the game,” Palmer said.
The Panthers have received solid scoring from senior forward Daniel Salter-Voltz and junior guards Justin Pryor and Chris Groetsch. Senior guard Scott Brown is averaging close to seven assists per game running the offense, and the play of freshman forward Nate Ridgeway gives Sewickley Academy a scoring threat at all five positions.
“Sometimes it can be an issue starting a freshman. Tom Droney (the star of SA's 2010 state title team) was the last one we had start,” Palmer said. “Like with Tom's freshman year (2006-07), the juniors and seniors on this team have done a great job bringing Nate into the mix and playing as a team.”
Perhaps none of the Panthers, most of all Ridgeway, have gone up against a team like Sewickley Academy's next opponent.
SA's next game at 6 p.m. Tuesday pits them against powerhouse Kennedy Catholic in the Coast 2 Coast Holiday Classic at Aliquippa. Kennedy Catholic is the top-ranked team in the state in Class A — it already has a win over Allderdice, Class AAAA's No. 3 team statewide — and is anchored by 6-foot-8 big man and West Virginia recruit Sagaba Konate.
The Panthers also will play Ohio football powerhouse Massillon on the event's second day Wednesday, which has Palmer excited to see his team pushed to another level.
“We went out and saw Kennedy Catholic against Allderdice, and were they impressive,” Palmer said. “Talent-wise, there's no question they're better than us right now.
“What I love about this game is, if we beat them, we really know we can do something. If we can't beat them the first time, it's going to sting a little, but we'll have things to work on. I say ‘the first time' because I hope to see them again in the (state) playoffs.”
The Panthers headed into Christmas with another lopsided section win Monday, 85-29 at Western Beaver, behind 22 points from Groetsch.