By: William Whalen, Saturday, March 9, 2019, TRIB-LIVE
The Fox Chapel boys basketball team took a trip to the “Magic City” on Saturday evening became part of the magic show.
The Foxes hung around early, but trying to keep up with District 10 champion Kennedy Catholic was a tall task as the Golden Eagles rolled to a 55-28 win in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs.
“I thought that we had a game plan, and I thought that we did a fantastic job in the first quarter,” Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar said. “They did what we asked them to do.”
Kennedy Catholic (23-3) moves onto face WPIAL fourth-place finisher in Pine-Richland (22-3), which beat District 3 third-place finisher Wilson, 89-64.
The Golden Eagles are in pursuit of their fourth consecutive PIAA title. The last came in Class A. This is the first season Kennedy Catholic is playing in Class 6A.
Kennedy Catholic also leads the state with nine PIAA championships. For the second season in a row, Fox Chapel’s season ends in the first-round of the PIAA tourney.
“If I could have drew up a game, this is how I would have drawn it up,” Kennedy Catholic coach Rick Mancino said. “That’s a good team and a well-coached team. We were fortunate to be a little bit bigger, and I thought it affected their slow-down game.”
Fox Chapel (16-9) senior Ryan Kerr stepped to the mid-court circle for the opening tipoff against 6-foot-10 senior and West Virginia commit Oscar Twshiebwe and cracked a smile when the two fist bumped.
“I asked him if he’s going to let me win the tip” Kerr said. “He said, ‘No chance.’ ”
Twshiebwe easily won the tipoff over the 6-foot-2 Kerr, but the Foxes were up for the battle early. It was Skirnjar’s plan to slow the game, make it manageable and play tough defense. His Foxes executed the plan to perfection for the first 12 minutes.
Fox Chapel junior Arnold Vento made a 3-pointer from the right corner to give the Foxes an early 3-2 lead.
Twshiebwe came back with a bucket, Duquesne recruit Maceo Austin added a slam dunk off a steal and came back with another short basket to get the Golden Eagles rolling. Austin led all scorers with 21points, and Twshiebwe added 20.
Fox Chapel trailed 10-7 at the end of the first quarter and seemed to have a puncher’s chance.
Kerr connected on a 3-pointer to start the second quarter to tie the score 10-10. Twshiebwe added dunk before Kerr came back with a mid-ranger jumper to keep the score close at 14-12.
And then, the shots stopped falling, and the Foxes started pressing. Noah Marks added a putback with 5 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the first half, and the Foxes’ scoring dried up.
“We talked about small victories and how small victories can lead to winning basketball games,” Skrinjar said. “We had a lot of small victories in there, and, unfortunately, you run up against the No. 1 team in the state.”
The “small victories” were few and far between the rest of the first half. Austin got hot for the Golden Eagles, and Twshiebwe put on a dunk clinic as Kennedy Catholic finished the second quarter on a 16-2 run.
“Once the game separated a little bit, the (slowing the game down) strategy is kind of hard to do,” Mancino said.
The second half was more of the same just at a much faster pace. Toledo recruit Matia Acunzo added a basket, Twshiebwe a putback, and, in the blink of an eye, Kennedy Catholic built an insurmountable 22-point lead.
Twshiebwe capped the third quarter with a monster dunk that got the attention of the packed gymnasium and gave the Golden Eagles a 40-18 lead going into the final quarter.
“It’s hard in a week to change the whole way you play,” Skrinjar said. “Then, you miss a shot. Then you’re down 16 (points), and it leads back to one of those early misses. As a coach, it’s tough because you’re down points, and you’re still trying to preach patience.
Kerr led Fox Chapel with eight points.
“We were a little undersized, but these guys don’t quit and we don’t expect them to quit,” Skrinjar said. “It’s a tall task, and I was proud f the way they continued to play and their effort.”