Gateway hustles way to top of standings
Gateway looks up to most of its opponents on the court. In the Section 4-AAAA standings, the Gators are looking down at everybody.
So much for the theory that the biggest teams have the largest win totals in Class AAAA boys basketball.
Entering this weekend, Gateway (6-3, 3-0) was the only school with a perfect section record in a section that includes Central Catholic, a team with seven players 6-foot-2 or taller.
When the Gators defeated the Vikings, 51-47, on Dec. 18, it was a classic example of a smaller team outhustling and outwitting, a larger and more talented squad.
"When you don't start a guy over 6-2, you have to be scrappy," Gateway coach Paul Holzshu said. "We don't have the weapons to come out every night and take a game right to somebody. We have to adjust on the fly."
What Gateway lacks in talent and height, it makes up for it with grit, experience and chemistry. At the end of the Central Catholic game, five seniors - Dan Bauer, Kevin Manley, Dan Polizzano, Chad Van Horn and Nick Bartel - were on the court.
The core of Gateway's team has played together since Holzshu took over as coach two seasons ago. The same group that was on the floor against Central Catholic, spent a lot of time together this summer when the Gators played more than 60 games.
The summer included a trip to the Eastern Michigan basketball camp, where the Gators had an opportunity to play teams from Flint. Mich., which is one of the Midwest's basketball hotbeds.
"We played hard teams throughout the summer, especially when we went up to Michigan," Bauer said. "That's how we got better."
Gateway struggled carrying the positive vibes from the summer into the early weeks of the regular season, partly because it was missing one of its top players. Polizzano, a 6-1 forward, missed the first three games - all loses - with an injury to his left index finger. Polizzano hurt the finger trying to tip a rebound during a preseason scrimmage against Duquesne.
Even without Polizzano, the Gators were competitive against some of the WPIAL's top teams, regardless of classification. After dropping its opener at North Allegheny, 64-49, Gateway lost to Upper St. Clair and West Mifflin by a combined total of five points.
"Sitting on the bench and watching us lose by two or three games was tough," Polizzano said.
Since Polizzano's return, the Gators defeated Burrell, Seneca Valley, Plum, Valley, Central Catholic and Fox Chapel.
"We knew as long as we got Polizzano back, a lot of things would come back to our team," Bauer said. "He's a leader on the floor and he's our captain. He makes us play."
Besides Polizzano, Van Horn, Manley and Bauer have played crucial roles in Gateway's rise. Van Horn, a 6-2 center, plays a variety of positions and creates match-up problems for opponents when he handles the ball like he did against Central Catholic.
"Chad is the one senior in our program that has played significantly from his sophomore year on," Holzshu said. "Chad's the catalyst of our team. Chad makes things happen and he makes the other guys stay focused."
When Van Horn plays underneath, he's helped by Manley, the team's leading rebounder, despite standing just 6-1. Bauer, his brother Derek, and senior Nick Bartel give the Gators a formidable back court that also helps with the rebounding.
"Kevin Manley does a heck of a job rebounding," Van Horn said. "Derek Bauer usually is the smallest guy on the court, and he does a heck of a job rebounding.
"I'm the starting center, and there's no way I can match up with 6-5, 6-6 guys. I just fight as much as I can."
Undersized fighters. It's a nice label for the only team that's still perfect in its section.