Garrett Vrbanic had just sat out two games with a sprained ankle when he returned to the Central Catholic basketball team's lineup last week and helped spark a 67-62 victory at Fox Chapel by scoring 11 points.
There wasn't a lot of reason for this senior point guard and the Vikings to celebrate, however. Vrbanic sustained a broken nose during that game, an injury that required surgery and sidelined him for at least two more games.
Central Catholic coach Chuck Crummie is hopeful of getting Vrbanic back Friday night for a game against McKeesport.
It has been that kind of season for Central Catholic. The Vikings have rarely had their starting five on the floor at the same time because of a rash of injuries.
Yet Central Catholic has been able to survive.
The Vikings beat Franklin Regional, 69-66, last Friday then defeated Penn Hills, 84-40, Tuesday to improve to 11-5 overall and7-2 in Class AAAA Section 2. That gave them seven wins in nine games after a 4-3 start to the season.
"I think we've shown improvement as the season has gone on but I don't think we've played as well as we're capable of playing yet and a lot of that has to do with the injuries," Crummie said.
"We've had to rely on some young players who have had some growing pains, but they have gotten better. Our guys have played hard, though, and it just seems like we're just now starting to pull together as a team."
That could be because Central Catholic might finally be close to full health when Vrbanic comes back.
Central Catholic could use all the help it can get in what has been an extremely tight section race. The Vikings were in a three-way tie for second place entering the week with Fox Chapel (12-4, 7-2) and McKeesport (11-4, 7-2), one game behind defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion Gateway (11-2, 8-1).
Besides playing McKeesport on Friday, Central Catholic faces the other two section title contenders to finish the regular season. The Vikings play host to Gateway on Feb. 5 and visit Fox Chapel Feb. 8
"Coming into the season, we expected there would be six teams fighting for [four] playoff spots," Crummie said. "I'm not surprised the standings are close but there have really been a lot of close games in our section -- games that have gone into overtime, games decided by one point, two points, three points. It's really a very well-balanced and competitive section."
In traditional Central fashion during his 33 seasons as head coach of the Vikings (584-282 record), Crummie has utilized his typically deep lineup, using 10 players or more in his game rotation on a regular basis.
As has become the Vikings' "modus operandi" under Crummie, they play a tight, pressing man-to-man defense for the most part, an up-tempo, fastbreak attack on offense when possible, and a methodical, work-for-a-good-shot, half-court offense.
The player who has kept Central Catholic competitive despite all the injuries is David Urso, a 6-foot-2 senior guard who is averaging 19.1 points a game. Urso's play has been vitally important because Central Catholic's second-leader scorer, 6-5 senior forward Sam Calhoun, has missed five games this season and continues to be hobbled by a sprained ankle.
"[Urso] has been a leader for us," Crummie said. "He's a real team-oriented guy and he's also a very versatile player. He can hit the 3-point shot but he is also very capable of being a slasher and take the ball to the hoop.
"Not only has he scored a lot of points but he's opened things up for other guys because the defense has to pay a lot of attention to him."
First Published January 24, 2013 5:00 AM