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Peters Township seeking thrills on, off the court

| Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, 6:48 p.m.

The 2016-17 basketball season is mere weeks old, but the Peters Township boys' team has already trekked a couple thousand miles and made indelible memories.

The Indians took part in the Kaylee Scholarship Association (KSA) Disney tournament in Orlando, Fla., playing three games at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Peters Township opened the tournament with a 60-58 victory over Dobyns-Bennett High (Kingsport, TN), before losing 82-35 to Jackson High School (Massillon, OH) and fellow WPIAL school Chartiers Valley, 74-66.

The tournament trip offered the Indians (8-2) a chance to bond, battle high-level competition, and experience all that the Happiest Place on Earth has to offer. The highlights included a safari, fireworks shows and a near 200-foot plunge on the Tower of Terror ride.

That thrill-seeking extends to the court for Peters Township, which plays an up-tempo style under coach Gary Goga.

“The kids have a lot of freedom. We tell them that if you've got an open shot, jack it, man,” Goga said. “The goal is to take quality shots. But we want to play a fast style, press and trap, and get the game into the 60s and 70s.”

That hasn't been a problem for Peters Township, which is averaging more than 70 points. Guard Michael Cortese, a 6-foot-1 senior, is the pace-setter.

“It's a pleasure to coach Michael,” Goga said. “He can go to the rim and has always had a great mid-range game, which is kind of a lost art these days. But as he has gotten older and stronger, he has added range to his 3-point shot. He's our leader. When we need a bucket, he's the guy most likely to get it.”

Playing at such a frenetic speed requires a deep bench, which is why Goga has a rotation of 11 or 12 players who log minutes each night. That might pose problems for some squads, but that hasn't been the case for the Indians, who won their host tournament this week with wins over South Fayette and Washington.

“We don't have a selfish group of kids,” Goga said. “Everybody wants to play 20-plus minutes. But with our style, that's tough to do. We need to keep guys fresh. Everybody knows going into the game that they're going to get on the court, and they need to take advantage of those opportunities. Whether it's defending, rebounding, or knocking down shots, we've had different guys step up and make plays.”

Early-season standouts include sophomore Dax Ploskina, a 5-11 guard who reminds Goga of a younger Michael Cortese.

“Dax has the potential to be an explosive player,” Goga said. “He's quick, he can finish, and he fights for rebounds with much bigger guys. He plays with limitless energy, and he always seems to be in the right place on the court.”

Conor Pederson, a 6-1 junior guard, gets to the rim and gives the Indians a nice post option against zone defenses. Guard Matt Thelk, a 5-10 senior, is a quality ball-handler, while 6-5 junior forward Jake Cortes snatches rebounds.

Goga, who led Peters Township to a WPIAL championship in 2009, knows he's going to need his full complement of players to thrive in a competitive Section 2-6A.

“Mt. Lebanon and Canon-McMillan look like the top teams early on, and then the rest of us are bunched together,” Goga said. “It's going to come down to taking care of business at home, stealing a few on the road, and getting better as the year goes on.”

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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