North Catholic boys aim to stick around in PIAA playoffs
When North Catholic tips off its PIAA first-round game Friday against District 5 champion Shade (25-1), the Trojans will be doing so with a second chance.
The Trojans lost, 82-69, to eventual champion Vincentian in the WPIAL Class A semifinals at North Hills on Feb. 26, but were guaranteed a state playoff berth via the PIAA follow-the-leader format.
North Catholic coach Dave Long has grown accustomed to section titles and WPIAL title berths, but this year he's been forced to re-evaluate how to prepare his group for its extended postseason run.
“My mentality is we have nothing to lose, so let's go out and see if the gods smile on us and we can make it a couple rounds and get to the state title,” Long said. “We're a very long shot to be representing the western end of the state in title game.
“At the same time, we have a shot, but we have to play our best basketball down the stretch.”
Although the WPIAL season didn't end as they had hoped, North Catholic is highlighted in this week's Trib Total Media/WPXI High School Sports Award feature. The boys basketball team is big reason North Catholic is in seventh place in the Class A standings.
Leading the Trojans to their 16-6 record and second-place finish in Section 2 were sophomore point guard P.J. Fulmore, juniors Dominic Robb and Ryan Kirby and seniors Pat Reilly and Danny Savulchak, the team's leading scorer.
Long said players grew into their roles as the season progressed, and he is confident the core young players will come back better next year.
“I'm very proud of how they played, but my one concern has been that our consistency hasn't been the way it should be throughout the season,” Long said. “When we played Vincentian, we could fly up and down the court and shoot the ball, but Shade is a very deliberate and concise team that's very patient offensively.
“We're going to have to adjust if we hope to play another game.”
Although the odds may not be in the Trojans' favor, do not expect to see any white flags coming from the locker room against Shade at Pitt-Johnstown. It's business as usual in the North Catholic gym. They lost in the PIAA first round each of the past two years.
“I'm pretty upset about (losing in the WPIALs), but I'm going to give it my all and play the best I can. … I'm fine with the situation,” Savulchak said. “I've encouraged (my teammates) and have been telling them to keep to their roles on the team to try to be victorious.
“I'm just looking forward to getting out there and playing strong and giving our best to see if we can win.”
Long said practice has been competitive and upbeat, but he's placed a lot of emphasis on the basics. At times this year, the Trojans steered away from the game plan and forgot what was taught at practice.
“We got away from some of the things that we should be doing and we fell into some of the traps, literally and figuratively,” Long said. “We've gone back to a little more of the fundamentals and looking over the floor and being a little more patient and recognizing that we just aren't going to be as effective just shooting the ball and hoping it goes in.
“I want them to focus on offensive and defensive rebounding and getting back to good old-fashion man-to-man defense that we've been noted for over the years.”
Brian Graham is a freelance writer.