Two of the biggest Fox Chapel boys basketball fans around got an early birthday gift Friday.
Dick and Barb Skrinjar each celebrate birthdays this week, but their most exciting gift came early courtesy of their son, Foxes coach Zach Skrinjar.
The Foxes capped off a four-game road trip with a pair of big wins last week, including a 72-70 victory over Class 6A top-ranked and previously unbeaten Upper St. Clair.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge and we embraced it,” Skrinjar said. “As a competitor, you always love playing in big games against a top-ranked opponent, so the chance to go out and play like we knew we could and come out with a win was very satisfying.”
While that victory was the sweet icing on the cake for last week, the cake itself was quite tasty thanks to a 10-point victory over Section 3-6A rival Central Catholic.
“We were down 10 early in the first quarter on the road at Central,” Skrinjar said. “Our players responded by not panicking as we continued to play our style and played one possession at a time. No one tried to do too much. To come back from that and win by double digits on the road was a very positive sign and showed growth.”
The two wins last week improved Fox Chapel to 5-2 overall. The Foxes have won three straight after losing back-to-back nail-biters to Chartiers Valley, 66-63, and at Penn-Trafford, 63-61.
“We hate to lose, but I think those losses allowed us to win the next three,” Skrinjar said. “I don’t think anyone, our players or coaches, enjoyed that week or the film sessions and practices that followed it. We saw our deficiencies, especially on the defensive end, and we knew we had to be more clear on our expectations and preparation moving forward.
“Our players also saw it and knew to be successful, we had to change. To their credit, they really embraced it and got back to the playing style that we have had so much success with.”
That success includes a record of 73-22 with two section titles and two second-place finishes in the four years since the PIAA expansion to six classifications.
There’s a lot Skrinjar likes about this team and the direction they are headed in an effort to build on the program’s recent success. However, like all coaches, he knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
“We are doing little things better now, paying more attention to detail,” Skrinjar said. “Although all of the guys playing did get some varsity minutes last year, most of them other than Eli (Yofan) and Kent (Baldauf) are in different and more feature roles this year. Early on, I don’t think they fully understood what that meant. In the last few weeks, I have seen them all growing into the role that we need them to fill.
“As far as improvement, I think our transition defense and rebounding need to improve. I would also like to possibly find a few more subs to get some minutes.”
In last week’s games, Yofan, a junior, led Fox Chapel with 22 points in the win over Central Catholic while the Baldauf, a senior, scored 18 in the win over Upper St. Clair.
The Foxes and Hempfield are starting to pull away from the rest of the pack in Section 3-6A. Both teams are 3-1 in section play and at least two games ahead of the other four squads.
With all that’s going on this season, Skrinjar said he is just happy to be coaching and being around his staff and players. However, he is also excited about what this team can accomplish moving forward.
“This was a big week for us, but now it’s over,” he said. “We talked about not being satisfied with what we did and working to continue to improve daily. I’m looking forward to seeing what this team can accomplish. We have all the tools we need. If we can continue to improve as individuals and a team, I know we are all excited to see how far this group can get.”
The Foxes’ success would be the gift that keeps on giving for two proud parents.