District 10 playoffs: Dragons take aim at Steelers
The second season begins tonight.
The Warren Dragons, fresh off a fourth place finish in Region 6, will host the Farrell Steelers, the fifth place team from Region 5 in the first round of the District 10 4A playoffs tonight at Joseph A. Massa Gymnasium (7 p.m.).
It’s an interesting matchup as the Steelers, after advancing to the PIAA quarterfinals last season, decided to play up when the PIAA made the move to six classifications this season.
It’s been tough sledding at times for the Steelers, as they come in with a record of 10-12, but they are nevertheless a very talented team.
“Very athletic, not bad size,” said Warren coach Jeff Berdine. “Style of play, we’re looking at teams like Erie East, Strong Vincent and VisionQuest – teams that want to play fast and pick you up full court man-to-man. We’ve had decent success against a couple of those types of teams, others we did not do very well with. They play quick, so it’s going to be very important for us to get back on defense.”
For the Steelers, it starts with 6-3 sophomore Kyi Wright, who averages 17.5 ppg. Wright is already garnering interest from Division I schools as a linebacker and as the numbers would indicate, is a standout on the basketball court as well.
“Some of the film we have of them their best player (Wright) wasn’t in it, so it was a little bit misleading,” noted Berdine.
Farrell also has a pair of guards – Nylan Hosey (11.9 ppg.) and Jarod Messet (10.6 ppg.) that like to shoot from the outside.
“They’re a team that plays a lot of 1-on-1 and takes a lot of long three’s,” Berdine said. “It will be important for us to do a good job boxing out on those long shots that lead to long rebounds. All five guys have to box out. If you’re guards don’t box out in those situations, you can get killed on the boards.”
Berdine feels that’s one area where the Dragons might be able to take advantage, and that starts with senior Noah Becker (7.8 ppg.)
On a team that introduced a talented sophomore class that makes up the core of their rotation, Becker has been an anchor in the middle.
“He’s going to need to play a big game on the glass,” noted Berdine. “It’s going to be important for him to come out and be physical and look to score the ball.”
That sophomore class – led by Griffin Suppa, Caleb Ei, Jake Kupchella and Aidan Morrison – has gone through some growing pains, but they are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time.
Ei (8.5 ppg.) has come up big down the stretch, scoring 22 points against Harbor Creek and 17 vs. Corry.
“Down the stretch, Caleb has been phenomenal for us offensively,” said Berdine. “Against Harbor Creek and Corry, he’s really been our main guy.”
Suppa (8.7 ppg.) stepped in from day one as the starting point guard and, despite only being a sophomore, has taken on a real leadership role in running the offense.
Kupchella (8.6 ppg.) is another athletic guard that has grown more and more with experience, scoring in double figures in eight of the Dragons’ final 11 regular season games.
Morrison, meanwhile, brings a toughness and intensity to the lineup and earned his first career start against Corry in the regular season finale.
Another Dragon who stepped up in the second half of the season is junior Kohl Nosel, a guard who has brought the Dragons (8-13) athleticism and a defensive prowess.
“One of the things when you have such a young group, you’re going to have a lot of ups and downs,” Berdine said. “That’s kind of what I expected this year with this group. I thought we played well at Harbor Creek, Fort LeBoeuf and Corry the last couple games of our region. We’ve been solid so I’m hoping that carries over.”
Berdine alluded to Farrell’s willingness to play fast and take quick shots, and feels that his team may be able to turn that into an advantage
“At times we’ve been a very good rebounding team and we’re going to need to do that,” he said. “That’s an area where we can limit them on those quick shots and maybe get some runouts.”
Braidy Blair (5.1 ppg.), Seth Baldensperger and Tyler Gilotti, as well as Andrew Davidson have also played key roles for Warren this season.
For Farrell, Jourdan Townsend (8.2 ppg.) and Brandon Chambers (6.9 ppg.) will be other players to watch.
The Steelers have a rich basketball tradition and that includes a large and supportive fan base, with at least one fan bus expected for tonight’s game.
That being said, Warren has also built a reputation for having a great home court advantage, led by the student section ‘The Flannel Panel.’
“Last year we packed the place pretty good and I’m excited to see what kind of turnout we get,” Berdine said. “In the past, the community has been very supportive and we’re hoping to have a good turnout. It (the playoffs) is a different atmosphere, but it’s to our advantage playing at home and we have to take advantage of that.”