NEW CASTLE —
It’s an opportunity four years in the making.
That’s how long it’s been since the Mohawk boys basketball team has gotten a taste of the WPIAL playoffs.
Now that the drought has ended, the Warriors would prefer that their season not end any time soon.
“I think our guys are looking at it kind of like I am. It doesn’t matter where or when,” Mohawk coach Rob Fadden playing. “We’re happy to be in and playing.”
The Warriors (9-13) start their postseason run at 3 p.m. tomorrow when they square off against Serra Catholic (13-8) in a Class AA preliminary-round matchup at Chartiers Valley High School.
TALE OF TWO SEASONS
Perhaps one of the most interesting story lines going into the game is how the two teams played in the second half of the regular season. After hot starts, both clubs suffered losing streaks and limped into the postseason.
Mohawk began the season 7-6 before dropping seven of its next nine games. It needed a win over Shenango and a New Brighton loss to sneak into a tie for fourth place and the last playoff spot in Section 2 (with Aliquippa).
The Eagles made the jump from Class A to Class AA over the summer and appeared to be one of the top teams in the classification after a 9-0 start. Success isn’t something foreign to Serra Catholic, since it made the playoffs for nine straight seasons, winning eight section championships in a row and taking home the PIAA and WPIAL Class A titles in 2008 under now-retired coach Bob Rozanski. But, offensive struggles mired the Eagles in the second half this season, as the team finished 4-8.
“It was immaturity; no doubt about it,” third-year coach Vince Gibbons said. “We hit a wall there. Our defense was playing really good, but our offense was scoring in high 40s or low 50s. We had to go back to fundamentals — running the floor and having guys buy into a team concept.”
There is merit to immaturity through youth, as the Eagles field a roster with nine sophomores and just two seniors.
Gibbons has been a part of the Serra Catholic program for 11 years, spending eight seasons under Rozanski as an assistant. Despite a long run of playoff success, he isn’t overlooking a tough Warriors squad.
“I’m not blowing smoke, I have a great deal of respect for that team. Their kids play hard and intense. They might not be the most talented bunch, but they outwork everybody,” he said. “Their defense is good, and they play as a team. I’m used to playing very selfish and inferior opponents in Round One, and we end up winning by 30 or 35. This is a reality check right now. We’re very capable of losing this game to this team. They’ve totally bought in to what he (Fadden) has accomplished there.”
Height isn’t at a premium here. Both teams feature some of the biggest players inside in WPIAL competition.
Jonathan Grim, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, has been a force for Mohawk this season, averaging eight points a game while swatting down attempted shots by the opposition almost at will.
“The young Grim kid has a load of potential,” Gibbons said. “If he uses his body a little more, he can be a premier player. He creates some matchup problems for us.”
The Eagles counter with a 6-10 senior in George Prota, who carries a team-high 14.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. It’s an adjustment for Fadden, who is used to Grim being the biggest guy on the court.
“It’s the tallest kid we’ve seen playing against a Mohawk team in awhile now,” he said. “We’re not going to overreact to that. When you’re 6-10 you’re going to get your points regardless. I don’t know if there’s much we can do to stop that.”
Guards Max Kaminsky, a 5-10 junior, and Joe Satira, a 6-2 sophomore, provide slick shooting from behind the arc for Serra Catholic.
“Their guard play is good enough to hurt us,” Fadden said. “I think those two shooters have the potential to be the most dangerous. They have two kids who can definitely knock it down.”
Kaminsky paces the team with the top mark of 53 3-pointers. Satira is next with 30 and is tied with Prota with a team-high 14.4 points a game.
Lucas Grim, Jonathan’s older brother, mans the point guard position for the Warriors, and Gibbons can’t help but be impressed with the 6-1 senior.
“I’m very concerned about him. He seems like a leader out there,” he said. “He’s not just an offensive player, but he’s great at playing defense. Those are the kids I love to have on my team. A player like that is what any coach wants.”
Grim owns team-highs of 11 points a game and 18 3-pointers while also shooting 67.7 percent from the free-throw line.
According to Gibbons, the key to victory for the Eagles will be matching the intensity and hard work of Mohawk.
“It’s a combination of things. They play very hard by working the ball up and down the floor. They play very good defense no matter where the ball is. They keep their hands in the passing lane. In high school basketball, you don’t see that a lot.”
Serra Catholic’s flexibility on defense could lead to troubles for the Warriors.
“I think they try to run a system of whatever option they get, they try to take it,” Fadden said. “They mix it up. In the films I have, they’ve shown a little bit of everything — man, zone, gimmick, full-court pressure.”
Tough section schedules undoubtedly have prepared both teams for the challenge that awaits.
“We play in one of the better sections in AA. A lot of people look at it just as Beaver Falls, but Neshannock, Riverside, Aliquippa and New Brighton are tough teams,” Fadden said. “It was a battle with Shenango and Laurel every night, too.”
Gibbons countered, “Our Section (3) is by far the toughest with Greensburg, Shady Side, Jeannette. Even with teams like Springdale and Riverview, there was not one easy game in the section this year. In games we won by 30, we worked hard to do that.”
(To check out this week’s “Big Shots” feature on The Bounce, CLICK HERE.)
NEW CASTLE —
It’s an opportunity four years in the making.
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