Down by one with 2.3 seconds left in a Jan. 18 game against McKeesport, Fox Chapel junior Matt D'Amico went to the free-throw line with a chance to give his team a key Class AAAA Section 2 win.
Just 10 days earlier, D'Amico had another chance to lift the Foxes to a win, but his 3-pointer at the buzzer against Gateway did not go down and the Gators held on for a 40-38 win.
"I'll take that any time," said Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar of D'Amico's final shot. "I knew that if we had more chances like that, he'd hit them."
Which D'Amico did, as he stepped to the line against the Tigers and drilled both free throws to give the Foxes their second win against Mc-Keesport this season.
"You just have to forget about everything," D'Amico said. "If you let other factors creep inside your head, you won't be able to do what you need to."
Beating McKeesport is one of many highlights during a breakout 2012-13 season for the Foxes' guard.
Earlier this season, D'Amico scored 38 points in a win against Woodland Hills. Three games later, D'Amico poured in 36 in a victory against Penn Hills.
D'Amico is seventh in the WPIAL in scoring with an average of 22.7 points per game. Last season, he averaged 11 per contest.
"What separates the good from the great players is their work ethic," Skrinjar said. "Matt had the willingness during the spring and summer to do a lot of the extra stuff to make himself a better player."
In addition to working on his outside and mid-range shots, D'Amico hit the weight room in the offseason. The added strength has helped him finish better at the basket.
It has also helped him withstand the physical play that defenses have thrown at him as they try to find a way to stop him.
"It's prepared him better, especially in the section when they've seen him before," Skrinjar said. "He has attracted a lot of defensive attention. He's seen a lot double teams and they've played him more physically.
"But he's going to get his points regardless. And the great thing about Matt is that he is willing to find the open man."
D'Amico has talent around him. His backcourt mate, Brian Papich, averages more than 15 points per game. The Foxes (16-6) have also gotten major contributions from role players such as Billy Urso, Nate Huwar, Connor Duquette. Alden Stone and David Brown.
"I think our depth and chemistry have been the biggest difference for us this season," D'Amico said. "We're deep and we've all played with each other for a while."
The Foxes lost a chance to win a share of a section title last Friday in a loss to Central Catholic, but they will be in the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season. The Foxes haven't won a game in the postseason since they advanced to the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals in 2006-07.
The Foxes will play Hempfield Area (17-5, 9-3), co-champions of Section 1, next Wednesday at a site and time to be determined.
D'Amico is ready to do everything he can to end the drought.
"I'm going to approach the playoffs the same way I do every game," D'Amico said. "I'm going to be focused and I'm going to do everything I have to do get us a victory."
The following North teams qualified for the WPIAL playoffs:
Class AAAA -- Fox Chapel, North Allegheny, Hampton, Seneca Valley.
Class AAA -- Mars Area, Knoch.
Class AA -- Deer Lakes, Shady Side Academy, Quaker Valley, Avonworth, Northgate.
Class A -- Vincentian Academy, North Catholic, Sewickley Academy, St. Joseph.
Class AAAA -- Fox Chapel, North Allegheny, Butler, Shaler.
Class AAA -- Hampton, Mars, Freeport, Quaker Valley.
Class AA -- Deer Lakes, Springdale, Avonworth.
Class A -- Vincentian Academy, North Catholic, St. Joseph, Eden Christian.
First Published February 14, 2013 5:00 AM