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Gateway boys basketball team hopes to ride wave of momentum into playoffs

Michael Love
| Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Gateway's Etholion Vennie drives to the basket against Penn Hills on Jan. 15, 2016.
Louis Raggiunti | For The Tribune-Review
Gateway's Etholion Vennie drives to the basket against Penn Hills on Jan. 15, 2016.

The Gateway varsity boys basketball team is on a roll heading into the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs.

The Gators capped the regular-season with a 51-38 win at North Allegheny on Saturday as part of the Hoops for a Cure events at North Allegheny High School.

One night earlier, Gateway traveled to McKeesport and scored a big 61-43 victory over the Tigers.

Wins over Franklin Regional (52-50), Armstrong, (57-34) and Fox Chapel (66-54) during the streak helped the Gators earn third place in the section standings at 9-5, behind only Penn Hills (11-3) and Plum (10-4) and one game ahead of the Panthers (8-6).

“When it was crunch time, we got five wins in a row against some pretty good teams,” Gateway head coach Daryn Freedman said. “We got our butts kicked at McKeesport and at North Allegheny last year, so those wins were pretty nice for the guys to get.

“We really controlled the game against North Allegheny. We were up by 30 in the third quarter before they made a late run. At McKeesport, we saw the offensive run almost to perfection for the first time this year. It took some time to get everything going. It's an offensive some colleges struggle with. The guys played poised in both games. That's what they will need in the playoffs.”

The WPIAL playoff pairings, including the dates, times and locations, were to be revealed Tuesday evening, past the deadline for this week's edition.

Freedman said he expected, before the playoff pairings were revealed, a seed somewhere between No. 8 and No. 12. The field, he said, is one of the deepest for Quad-A in a long time.

“We beat a lot of good nonsection teams,” Freedman said. “We beat (Section 3 co-champion) North Hills. We played really well and made shots in that game.”

The Gators went 6-1 in nonsection play with its only loss coming against Norwin by two points in the championship game of the Gateway holiday tournament.

Norwin finished 14-7 overall and 9-3 (third place) in Section 1. The Knights suffered a 78-54 loss to McKeesport in a nonsection game Monday.

Gateway was able to navigate its way through a challenging section slate that included numerous close games. Several went into overtime.

The Gators' five-game winning streak comes on the heels of a three-game skid.

Gateway suffered a 46-34 loss at home to Plum on Jan. 21 before not losing again in the regular season.

“There's no question we're getting better,” Freedman said. “We're coming together, from J.P. (Kromka), David Wilson and Pete Flaherty on the inside to Clayton (Nola), Frank (Bozicevic), Etholian (Vennie) and Courtney (Jackson). Hopefully, it leads to good stuff in the playoffs.”

Freedman said Nola, a top outside threat for the Gators, is healthy right now after battling through injury in the middle of the season.

Mark Bozicevic, a sophomore guard, hits some big shots against North Allegheny. He canned a trio of 3-pointers in the second quarter and finished with nine points.

“He's starting to be a more well-rounded player,” Freedman said.

Kromka blocked 10 shots in the first half against North Allegheny. He added seven points.

Frank Bozicevic led all scorers with 16 points.

The section coaches voted for the all-section teams Sunday, and Kromka was the only sophomore to the first team. Frank Bozicevic is a second-team selection, while Vennie was tabbed honorable mention.

“If we can defend and make shots, we can beat anyone in Quad-A,” Freedman said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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