Match-ups, not coaches, matter in BP-Fox Chapel battle
At 6-feet-7, Ben O’Connor draws attention. When Bethel Park takes on Fox Chapel in a first-round WPIAL Quad-A boys’ basketball playoff game at 3 p.m. Feb. 15 at North Hills, spectators may focus on O’Connor.
But, they shouldn’t. See, O’Connor can’t score or make any plays for either squad. That’s because he coaches the Black Hawks. Plus, he’s a guidance counselor at Fox Chapel as well as the Foxes’ former coach.
People shouldn’t look at the contest as ‘Ben vs. Fox Chapel’ says O’Connor, who has also enjoyed coaching stints at his alma maters, Keystone Oaks and Westminster College. “It’s a good team from the east in Fox Chapel and a good team from the south In Bethel Park,” he said.
Indeed as both teams are 17-5 overall and seeded eighth and ninth respectively in the tournament. BP was runner-up to Upper St. Clair in Section 4 with an 11-3 slate while the Foxes finished third in Section 2 behind Plum and Franklin Regional with a 9-5 record. Both teams have played and beaten similar opponents in Baldwin, Peters Township and McKeesport.
“To be honest you can get into all the details of like opponents and records,” said O’Connor, “but what it will come down to is match-ups and one game.”
And, this one game between Fox Chapel and Bethel Park presents many fascinating angles. Of course, there is the O’Connor sidebar.
O’Connor coached the Foxes for four seasons before taking the position at Bethel Park in 2009. During his four-year tenure at Fox Chapel, his teams made the playoffs three times, reaching the district semifinals in 2007, the season Bethel Park won the WPIAL title.
While there are no players left from when he coached at Fox Chapel, O’Connor says they came from huge families that still live in the area. Hence, there are some remnants from O’Connor’s coaching days. For example, Billy Urso served as a ball boy for O’Connor. The junior runs the Fox Chapel offense from the point guard position. His younger brother, Brendon, is a sophomore on the squad.
Because he is employed by the Fox Chapel School District, O’Connor anticipates an animated reception from the fan base. “It comes with every game,” he said. “All opponents know who they are playing and the fans usually have found out something about them.”
The Foxes likely know the Hawks well as their head coach, Zach Skrinjar, served as O’Connor’s assistant coach when he was the floor boss at Fox Chapel. Ironically, the Foxes’ skipper is a teacher in the North Hills School District, which is the site for the first round game.
Nevertheless, O’Connor is preparing his Black Hawks to beat the Foxes.
“From 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. my loyalties lie with Fox Chapel. Those are the people from whom I draw my paycheck,” O’Connor said. “After 2:30 and until 7:30 the next morning, my loyalties and my concerns are with the Bethel Park boys’ basketball team. There’s a reason why I am still at Bethel Park.”
And, the reason why the Hawks will beat the Foxes depends on Bethel Park.
“We’ll go over a few strategies and familiarize ourselves with their personnel but our approach is simple. Us being us,” O’Connor said. “I’m a believer in it’s what you do as opposed to what your opponent does (that wins or losses a game).”
While the Foxes feature Matt D’Amico, who averages 22.7 points per game, and Brian Papick, a 6-2 senior guard who recently surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for his career, Bethel Park’s strength lies within its depth. Joey Mascaro leads the team with a 17-point average while Josh Krafczynski and Anthony Bomar follow with 9-point averages.
Plus, the Hawks go 10 deep. In addition to starters Jake Murphy and Jake Dixon, the Hawks have relied heavily upon Quentin Keibler, Sam Volpatti, Dan Breit, R.J. Pfeuffer, Levi Metheny and Ryan Sosnak this season.
“We have great depth and the ability to play unselfishly. We continue to do that, then we will be successful,” O’Connor said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting game and little by little less about me, and especially with our team.”