Freeport in search of playoff success
FREEPORT: Freeport boys basketball has flourished since it moved back to Class AA in 2001.
The Yellowjackets have made the playoffs in all three seasons since then, and reeled off a perfect 20-0 regular season last winter.
But one thing is missing from the Yellowjackets' recent resume —- a playoff win.
"Last year, people thought we would do so well because we were 20-0," said junior point guard David Bauman. "This year, we have done things kind of quiet. Some people think our section is weak, so maybe we can go out and cause some damage."
Freeport has enjoyed flying under the radar, but if this year's team, which recently clinched its second consecutive Section 1-AA championship and takes a 15-5 record into tonight's regular season finale against Ford City, is to be compared to last year's team, a playoff win may be what tilts the scale.
"There's no need to compare teams," Bauman said. "This is a much different team. We have so many guys who can come off the bench and help us."
Freeport's last playoff victory came in 1998 against Farrell. The Yellowjackets edged the Steelers, 54-53 in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals, then lost to Aliquippa in the semis.
Summit Academy brought the season to an abrupt end in 2001 with a preliminary round win over the Yellowjackets.
Last year, Freeport was shocked in the first round by surprise team South Fayette, which handcuffed star guard Adam Bauman.
"It's really hard to compare the two teams," said coach Mike Beale, who took over for veteran coach Garrie Davies at the start of the season. "Their personalities are so different. Last year, the kids played together so long. They were together since they were freshman. This year, the team has sort of blended."
Freeport may be more difficult to tie up in the playoffs this season.
"Defensively, I think we're a little harder to match up with," Beale said. "Last year, everyone knew about Adam Bauman. They were all gunning for him."
Regardless of comparisons, Freeport has won 27 straight section games over two seasons.
The team has come up with a new motto for this season — "New Team, Same Dream" — by guard Brent Ferko's design. Last year, it was "United We Stand".
A poster shows another popular catch phrase, "Blue Collar Attitude", a brainchild of the coaching staff. Under a photo of hard-hat wearing players in the team schedule with lead-in line, "Punch-in Times".
Davies, lobbying for the title of Freeport's No. 1 fan this season, expected another strong season from Freeport.
"I'm not surprised they're playing so well," said Davies, who took a year off for health reasons. "We're inspired. The players have worked their way through things. That is something that lasts and leads to success."
Davies said the players are extremely coachable.
"The players and coaches work so well together, in perfect harmony," Davies said. "The players are diving after looses ball and keeping the faith.
"They are all business, there is no back-talking."
With three players averaging in double figures — David Bauman 17.2, Ferko 13.6 and Calvin Carter 12.1 — Freeport has several go-to options.
Tight, trapping defense and consistent long-range shooting helps Freeport make up for its lack of imposing size.
Those traits are a major reason why Freeport has won 10 of its last 11 games, including six straight.
David Bauman, Ferko and Carter have combined to make 110 3-pointers.
" A different guy can hurt you every night," said David Bauman, who played the point last season after starter Craig Kasunic went down with an injury. Bauman missed seven games with an ankle injury, but returned in time for the playoffs.
"Davey, Brent and Calvin all moved up as freshman," Beale said. "They have been around the program a while and have been a big part of its success."
Other players also have emerged. Cory Weibel has been the Yellowjackets' answer to a true center, providing valuable minutes, points and rebounds.
"Cory plays like he 6-foot-7," Beale said.
Luke Westerman, out for basketball for the first time, has added depth and grit in the backcourt.
"We're a lot deeper than last year," Beale said. "Mike Huth and Steve Cooper have been great role players, and Chuck Chelecki has played well inside for us."
A deep bench shares many of the same components — tenacity on defense and overall athleticism are two.
"By far, that is what makes us go," Beale said. "These guys play well as a group. We have four or five guys who can bring the ball up. There's times when we have five guards on the floor at one time."
Beale said the team's 0-3 start is all but forgotten.
"We had some kids coming in off of football, and it took some time to find out where people belonged," Beale said. "They needed some time to blend."
Beale said his hurried transition from assistant to head coach has been relatively smooth, thanks to help from his assistants. There is also balance in the coaching staff.
"I have been very fortunate, we're like three brothers," Beale said of his assistants, Wayne Greiser and Damian Davies. "We bounce ideas off one another and we stay and play after practice."
All three coaches are former Freeport players and captains.
Freeport hopes for another generous seed from the WPIAL in the playoffs, which begin next Friday.
The Yellowjackets entourage will be in Green Tree on Tuesday for the pairings meeting.