The night before his Penn-Trafford High School boys basketball team faced Hempfield Area, Warriors coach Ryan Yarosik warned about the perils of playing in Section 1-AAAA this season.
"Our section hasn't earned much praise in the past and it's understandable because our teams haven't done very well in the [WPIAL] playoffs," said Yarosik, whose team was seeded sixth in last year's WPIAL tournament but lost to eventual champion Gateway in the first round.
"It's different this season, though. There are a lot of quality teams in our section, a lot of teams I think that can win games come playoff time. There is a lot of good competition and you really do have to be ready to play every night."
Sure enough, Penn-Trafford went on the road last Friday night and got thumped, 72-52, by Hempfield Area, the Warriors' first section loss in a season in which it entered as the favorite to win the section title.
The 20-point loss, however, was Penn-Trafford's first clunker of the season. Its other two defeats came by six points to Hampton, ranked No. 2 in Class AAAA by the Post-Gazette, and four points to Obama Academy, the City League favorite.
In their final game of the 2012 calendar year, the Warriors knocked off Bethel Park, 73-72, at the Shady Side Academy tournament as senior guard Dorian Stevens hit a winning 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds remaining.
"That was a signature win not only for our program but our section as a whole," Yarosik said. "We showed that we could beat one of the better teams in the WPIAL in a close game. It showed we're capable of playing with the top teams from other sections and I know other teams in our section are capable of doing that, too."
Penn-Trafford (7-4, 2-2) is one of five teams within two games of first-place Norwin (7-3, 4-0), in the section standings along with Hempfield (8-3, 3-1), Greater Latrobe (8-4, 3-1) and Kiski Area (8-4, 3-2).
There is little doubt that Penn-Trafford has one of the best players in the section in Corey Stanford. A 6-foot-4 senior guard/forward, he was voted the section's most valuable player last season and is averaging 21.0 points a game this season.
Stanford was the only Penn-Trafford player to score in double figures against Hempfield, finishing with a game-high 21 points. He is receiving Division I college interest, primarily from Bryant and Cleveland State.
"I put Corey up there with Geno Thorpe or anyone else in the WPIAL," Yarosik said, referring to the high-scoring Shaler star and Penn State recruit, who is generally considered the top player in the WPIAL.
"The great thing about Corey is he can beat you in so many ways offensively. If you come outside and try to guard him on the perimeter, he can beat you off the dribble and go to the hoop. If you pack it inside and try to keep him from driving, he'll knock down the jumper."
Stanford is part of a three-pronged senior scoring attack for Penn-Trafford. Forward Andy Abreu is scoring 17.6 points a game and guard Christian Rohaus has a 14.9 average.
Yarosik considered Abreu, who is 6-5, the best big man in the section and was impressed with how he scored 18 points against Wyatt Hagerty, Bethel Park's 6-11 center who is receiving scholarship offers from mid-major programs.
"Hagerty can really play and I thought Andy got the better of him despite giving away 6 inches," Yarosik said.
Rohaus at 6-4 is Penn-Trafford's top 3-point shooter, but also has the size to post up defenders if necessary.
"He keeps defenses honest," Yarosik said. "He really balances us out with his shooting."
First Published January 10, 2013 5:00 AM