Trib Cup: South Fayette boys basketball expected to contend
Having lost four of its five starters and facing a bulked-up group of section rivals, South Fayette coach Rich Bonnaure had every reason to go the easy route when it came to constructing a nonsection schedule.
He asked his players. They wouldn't let him do it.
“I let them get involved in the schedule to kind of see what they're thinking,” Bonnaure said. “I just know how they set their sights. They realize we'll probably lose some games with this schedule, but it'll give us the best chance to reach our full potential.”
The Lions already had to deal with Montour in Section 5-AAA, and this season the WPIAL upped the ante in the section by adding WPIAL powerhouse Chartiers Valley, which is down from Class AAAA, and Keystone Oaks, which moved over from Section 4-AAA after a 20-2 regular season last year.
Among South Fayette's eight nonsection games, three are against programs from Maryland and West Virginia. All five nonsection opponents from the WPIAL are coming off playoff seasons, four of which were PIAA qualifiers.
Not an easy task for a team that had to replace three senior starters and then found out it will be without senior Zach Challingsworth due to injury. Challingsworth was the Lions' leading scorer last season.
“We've moved on,” Bonnaure said. “I like the kids that are here. We'll find out early because we know we took on a tough schedule that will make us better if we meet it head on.”
South Fayette split two tough early games, getting a big 77-69 win in its opener at Keystone Oaks Tuesday before playing what Bonnaure called “our worst game in my 10 years of coaching” Wednesday in a 49-34 loss at West Mifflin. South Fayette's home opener is 7:45 p.m. Friday against South Park.
As they have been for most of the past decade, the Lions are expected to be a factor in their section title race and perhaps make a run in the postseason. That would only help South Fayette's placing in the Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award Class AAA standings. The school ranks fifth.
“We want to try to get pressure on the ball and still run when we get the ball,” Bonnaure said. “That's kind of been a defensive staple for us for the 10 years I've been there. We're trying to get it back to where we were one of the best defensive teams. We need to if we're going to have any shot at all in the section we are in.”
Bonnaure's son, senior point guard Evan Bonnaure, is the Lions' lone returning starter and high returning scorer. He had a game-high 29 points in the season opener Tuesday.
“We should be pretty balanced,” Rich Bonnaure said. “Evan's worked so hard the past year and a half to make himself a better player. He can score, or he can distribute the ball. He can be a ‘1' or a ‘2' guard but plays the ‘1' for us. He just wants to win more than any kid I've ever coached, to be honest.”
Swing man C.J. Rudisic (6-5) and 6-2 guard Lucas Russell are seniors in the starting lineup, joined by 6-2 junior forward Justin Watson and 6-4 sophomore center Brett Brumbaugh. Brumbaugh was second in the WPIAL in passing yards this past football season (Challingsworth was fourth in receiving).
Sophomore Nick McKee is the primary backup at guard, junior Ben Berkovitz spells Brumbaugh on the post, and junior Sam Guadagnino comes off the bench at forward.
Bonnaure said the group played more than 40 games in summer and fall leagues.
“We don't have a real vocal leader, but these guys having been together all summer and fall, and they've really grown up from the spring,” Bonnaure said. “They really set their sights high when we made the schedule. They're looking forward to it.”
Chris Adamski is a freelance writer.