Gators end USC’s season
Seniors end successful season
Despite being knocked out of the WPIAL Quad-A boys’ basketball playoffs by Gateway, Danny Holzer looked back on Upper St. Clair’s 16-7 season with plenty of pride and a tad of regret. The Panthers’ 68-50 loss to the Gators saw the end of the scholastic career for seven of his seniors: Will Ross, Conor Gallagher, Thomas Steve, A.J. Gross, Nick Staley, J.J. Conn and Zach Staley.
“I wished we could have gone deeper in the playoffs. As a coach a loss like this hurts a lot because it’s not only the end of the season but the last time I get to coach such fine young men.
“All seven of my seniors were part of a great tradition and I told them how proud I was of them. As a group, they accomplished a lot.”
During the 2013-14 campaign, the Panthers claimed their third straight section banner and in the past two years, USC has posted a 25-3 record in league games. Only New Castle, Holzer pointed out, has had more section wins.
“That makes me proud,” he said. “These kids are winners and they are going to be successful in whatever they choose to do in life.”
While some will golf or play football in college like Steve at Notre Dame and Conn at Lafayette, all the seniors will continue their education and will learn from their experiences on the court. Some like Ross learned effort is really worth it even when matched against a bigger adversary.
Ross had the assignment of attempting to contain Tom Kromka. The 6-6, 240-pound senior center dominated Gateway’s inside attack, scoring 17 points and patrolling the offensive and defensive boards.
“Kromka was the difference,” Holzer admitted, “but I am so proud of Will Ross. He battled. He worked his tail off against him.
“Offensive rebounds were a key. That’s what we expected them to do. We practiced against that. But it’s easier said than done.
“Give Gateway credit. They played well. They are extremely athletic, balanced and talented.”
Until the playoffs, injuries and illness ravaged that talent. Gateway lost five of its last seven games and finished third in section 2 in part because Kromka suffered a broken nose and battled back problems down the stretch. Additionally, Shomari Thomas missed six games with a concussion and Devlon Randall had pneumonia.
Randall, who is headed to Michigan State on a football scholarship, fired in 21 points while Thomas supplied 17 markers against the Panthers.
“Without question, Gateway was the most athletic team that we faced in two years,” said Holzer of the club, which also featured two addition Division I football recruits headed to Temple.
“Our No. 1 thing was to keep them off the boards and, two, to take away transition,” Holzer said. “We really didn’t do either one because their athleticism is really impressive.
“Against a good team like Gateway, you can’t play the way we did and expect to win. They made us pay the price.”
Sophomore Andrew Wheeler and Steve almost made the Gators pay the price. They buried consecutive treys to pull USC within 10 points, 45-35, by the end of the third quarter. At the start of the final frame, Steve’s attempt from beyond the arc rimmed out of the hoop.
“ We get that roll,” said Holzer of the 3-pointer that would have cut the margin to seven, “then maybe it’s a different game. But their athletic talent overwhelmed us.”
Although USC led, 7-6, after Conn’s layup at 3:40, the Gators went on a 17-5 run in the second quarter. Kromka’s dunk sparked the spree. Though USC outscored Gateway, 14-12, in the third quarter, the Gators ran away with the fourth frame, 23-15.
Wheeler led USC with 12 points all on 3-point field goals. Conn and Gallagher each finished with 11 tallies.