Basketball season will be remembered for big performances
Bill Gaffey gets dozens of updates each season on high-scoring basketball performances around Pennsylvania.
This season, the founder of pahoops.com and the Pennsylvania Basketball Hall of Fame got to know the Alle-Kiski Valley and its top players a little better — at least in terms of their names and statistics.
"I get reports of players scoring 40 or more in games during the season, and this year is about double than last year," Gaffey said. "On my site, I also list anyone scoring 50 or more in a game. And we have a lot of those over the years, but not in one year like this one."
Individual scoring rocketed to new heights in the Valley and likely will be what fans remember most about this unique season.
Scoring was up, in general, in the WPIAL and City League, but of the 19 players that scored 40 or more points in games in Western Pennsylvania, six were from the A-K Valley — Highlands' Micah Mason, Kittanning's Nathan Stolitza, Plum's Nolan Cressler, St. Joseph's Brian Heinle, Valley's Geoff Fuquay and Kiski Area's Zach Barker.
All six hybrid guards averaged 23 or more points, and all but Cressler, a junior, went over the 1,000-point mark for their careers.
Mason, a junior, had one of the finest regular seasons in recent memory.
He averaged a WPIAL-best 33.3 points and scored 40 or more six times. He also had a 51-point game and an amazing 64-point showing in another, gaining him national prominence as a "Faces in the Crowd" entry in Sports Illustrated.
"His final statistics will compare, if not demolish, any other individual year-long performance," Highlands coach Shawn Bennis said.
Stolitza (27.2 ppg) hit the 40-or-more point mark five times, including a 47-point barrage against Deer Lakes. Cressler (25.5) had 46 against North Hills, while Fuquay (24.5) and Heinle (24.8) had 45- and 44-point games, respectively. Barker (23.0) had a pair of 40-point games.
"I was there for Micah's 64 and Brian's 44, and the thing that impressed me the most was the fact that it came so easy for them," St. Joseph coach Kelly Robinson said. "They never showed any sign of hogging the ball or forcing shots. It just came with the flow of the game. That's what impressed me most."
Fuquay's hefty effort happened in the same game as Mason's jaw-dropping 64 — the second-most points scored in a game by one player in WPIAL history and an A-K record.
Mason took fewer than 20 shots in the game, which didn't go to overtime. He was 17 for 19 from the field (7 for 7 3s) and 23 of 24 from the foul line.
That is staggering when you consider that when Bristol's Pete Cimino set the state single-game record of 114 points, he attempted 79 shots and made 26 of 29 free throws.
Gaffey said the Mason-Fuquay shootout brought back memories of another classic dual in the Commonwealth.
"The craziest game happened in February of 1970 up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, when Delaware Valley defeated Honesdale, 125-110," Gaffey said. "Rick Litts had 67 for the winners, and Mike Richard had 78 for the losers."
Many coaches were impressed by the boost in scoring, but they admit defense was somewhat lacking. They believe if the defense continues to sag, the points may keep coming in waves.
"I feel the main reason (for the rise in scoring) is the de-emphasis of teaching kids how to play good defense," Robinson said. "This combined with the emphasis at the offensive end by coaches at all levels will allow us to see another year like this.
"It may not be next year, but it will happen again soon."
Bennis gives offseason AAU credit for keeping players polished.
"These players are exposed to basketball on a year-round basis," he said. "They are constantly working on their skills. They are also playing against some very intense competition at the AAU level."
Bennis said hands-on coaching has changed with the introduction of fast-paced offenses.
"Another reason for the increase in scoring deals with the dribble drive motion offense," Bennis said. "This offense allows for players to make the decisions. It puts the offense in the hands of the players more than the coach."
With players attacking the hoop more freely, they have been more active at the foul line. Mason, Stolitza and Fuquay had games where they attempted 20-plus free throws.Additional Information:
Points of emphasis
Games this season where local boys basketball players scored 40 or more points:
64 points: Micah Mason, Highlands, vs. Valley • W, 101-83
51: Mason, Highlands, vs. Ringgold • L, 100-93 (OT)
47: Nathan Stolitza, Kittanning, vs. Deer Lakes • W, 64-55
46: Nolan Cressler, Plum, vs. North Hills • W, 83-72
45: Geoff Fuquay, Valley, vs. Highlands • L, 101-83
44: Brian Heinle, St. Joseph, vs. Leechburg • W, 83-67
44: Mason, Highlands, vs. Trinity • L, 89-87 (OT)
43: Stolitza, Kittanning, vs. Riverview • W, 77-70
42: Mason, Highlands, vs. Greensburg Salem • L, 93-90 (OT)
42: Mason, Highlands, vs. Mars • L, 74-72 (OT)
42: Stolitza, Kittanning, vs. Burrell • W, 72-52
41: Stolitza, Kittanning, vs. Erie East • L, 71-60
40: Mason, Highlands, vs. Hampton • W, 61-58
40: Stolitza, Kittanning, vs. Valley • W, 57-56 (OT)
40: Zach Barker, Kiski Area, vs. Albert Gallatin • W, 79-47
40: Barker, Kiski Area, vs. Connellsville • L, 71-68