Sewickley Academy boys look forward to playoffs
Now, the “fun” begins for the Sewickley Academy boys basketball team.
With the regular season complete, the Panthers looked forward to another long playoff march.
“We're really excited. We have an awesome group of guys, and we get along really well with each other,” senior Declan Hickton said. “Now, it comes down to being focused and prepared for every game and embracing and the enjoying the moment on the court. Every guy does that. It'll be fun for everyone.”
Last year, Sewickley Academy advanced to the WPIAL Class A championship and reached the PIAA semifinals. The Panthers hope to lean on the experience of senior starters Justin Pryor, Chris Groetsch and Hickton and top reserve Teddy McClain this season. All are captains.
“We are a diverse group. We play freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. When it comes down to it, we rely on our four senior captains,” Hickton said. “Chris, Justin and I have been starters and leaders since our sophomore year. Experience is on our side.”
Sophomore Nate Ridgeway started last year and brings another year of experience. However, the playoffs will be new for freshmen Isiah Warfield and Isaiah Smith.
“We've made tremendous progress,” coach Win Palmer said. “Both (Warfield and Smith) have transformed their games and done a lot of growing up. The challenge for freshmen, who are in the playoffs for the first time, is for them to just play their game. Our seniors have been tremendous leaders throughout the year. I think their steadiness and communication will be critical come playoff time.”
The Panthers are in Class 2A this year, which offers a new challenge. However, they believe their section and nonsection schedule gave them plenty of preparation. They beat Thomas Jefferson, Baldwin, Franklin Regional, Monessen and Central Catholic but lost to playoff teams North Allegheny and District 10 Kennedy Catholic.
“Our coaches always stress that, in order to be the best, you have to play the best. Our schedule was definitely the toughest I have ever seen,” Hickton said. “The competition we faced was only going to make us better. That was the goal from the start — just to prepare us for the playoffs.”
Sewickley Academy (17-4) finished second in its section at 12-2. Its losses came to section champ Bishop Canevin and Laurel. Of the Panthers' four defeats, three came by four points or fewer.
“Every loss has helped us get better. That's a good thing,” Palmer said. “We played a great nonsection schedule, and our section proved to be challenging. We really feel we're prepared for the playoffs.
“The teams that get through the playoffs the best are the teams that get by when they're not at their best. We will have a game in the playoffs where we're not at our best. There can't be a sense of panic.
“We have to stay with it and make adjustments. When we lost to Canevin, we were down by 14 on the road, but came back and lost by two. It was a situation where we put it behind us and just played. In the playoffs, you have to have a short memory and be willing to forgive each other quickly.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.