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Trib Cup: Central Valley boys gain momentum heading into playoffs

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 11:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Central Valley's Michael Sims splits the Blackhawk defense between Tyler Nicholson (left) and Logan Frye during their game Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013 in Center. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

There's always a moment in a season when a coach can look at his team and emphatically say this is when the season turned around.

For Central Valley boys basketball coach Brandon Ambrose, that moment came after a pair of losses.

“After losing to Ambridge and Beaver Falls, I was very impressed with how they approached the game after them, and I can say that turned the season around and showed them we can compete and play every night,” Ambrose said. “We responded with adversity when we could have laid down, but we didn't do that. … I think our confidence grew out of that loss.”

With their impressive win total this season, the Central Valley boys basketball team is the focus of this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature. The Warriors are a major reason why Central Valley High School is in third place in the Class AAA standings.

Since the pair of losses, the Warriors have won three consecutive games, moving to 15-6 overall and 9-2 in Section 2-AAA heading into Friday night's section finale against Hopewell (3-17, 2-9). Central Valley enters the game tied for first with Beaver (16-3, 9-2), which dealt the Warriors their other section loss this season Jan. 4.

During the three-game winning streak, the Warriors avenged the loss to Beaver, 74-53, and beat third-place Blackhawk, 66-56, on Tuesday.

“Blackhawk is a good team and with a good tradition and they're always ready to play,” Ambrose said. “One thing I can say is we don't always play perfect, but we compete, and (Tuesday) night was no different.”

Central Valley's switch to an up-tempo offense has keyed the team's run to a WPIAL playoff berth. The Warriors' offense differs from the “grind-it-out” system Ambrose implemented in years past. Ambrose made the adjustment to fit his personnel, noticing the players' styles have changed.

“These guys want to get up and down and run and pressure and create turnovers,” Ambrose said. “They have good instincts in understanding rotations and where players are going to throw the ball.

“I think a big reason why is because we are a lot deeper. Instead of playing six or seven guys, we're playing nine or 10, and there's no drop off.”

Ambrose's starting five includes juniors Brian Kolich (13 ppg), Michael Sims (10 ppg), Jake St. George (100 steals) and Matt Kline, as well as sophomore Chris Anastas. The deep bench includes senior Ryan Michaels, junior Tony Gates and sophomores John George and B.J. Powell. Ambrose said having capable players coming off the bench has been an advantage and has allowed the team to play aggressive defense without worrying about foul trouble.

“They all play good defense by getting down and guarding, creating turnovers, and we can trap,” Ambrose said. “On the offensive side, we've been able to execute well in a motion offense. And the thing is, it's a different guy every night. … Everyone has contributed at some point each game.”

Ambrose said he is certain his team's mentality will not change heading into the postseason, and the principles he's taught them all year will be vital.

“Keep guarding people and executing on offense,” Ambrose said. “A lot of it is a match up thing. … It's a matter, in my opinion, of keep practicing hard and do the things that got you in the playoffs, and hopefully you play and shoot well when you're there.”

The Warriors will find out their seed and opponent for the Class AAA playoffs after the pairings meeting Tuesday night.

Brian Graham is a freelance writer.

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