When Western Beaver coach Joe Podolak thinks about the strongest attributes of Nick Miller, his star player and leading scorer, it's a succinct explanation.
"He knows the game," Podolak said. "He knows when to push the ball and he doesn't take bad shots. He knows the game and that's what stands out for us."
Not only has Miller stood out for his Western Beaver team, but he has made a name for himself this season across the local high school basketball landscape. A 6-foot-2 junior guard, he has had a breakout 2012-13 campaign, averaging 23.5 points in the regular season, making him one of the top-five leading scorers across all levels of WPIAL/City League boys' basketball.
According to his coach, Miller's offensive production comes from a scoring acumen that can be traced back to his overall understanding of the game.
"He's obviously our 'go-to guy' and kids always look for him on the floor," Podolak said. "Basically, he can score from anywhere. Nick has a green light to shoot whenever he sees an opening. The team has accepted that. He's the main reason we've lucked out and gotten a playoff spot."
In his junior season, Miller has shown signs of significant progress. Podolak lauded his star's progression as a ball-handler and his advancement as a defender, but according to Miller, perhaps no aspect of his game has improved more than his shot selection and ability to penetrate opposing defenses.
"Last year I took a lot of 3s and jumpers and this year I really attack the hoop more," Miller said.
As should be expected in a team game such as basketball, Miller was not the only player that had a role in helping the Golden Beavers (6-14, 3-7 Section 1) clinch a spot in the Class A playoffs. Podolak praised the contributions made by players such as forwards Zach Perry, Brandon Sheeler, Cody Acon, Ed Doyle and John Petrosky, as well as point guard Steve Robison, who, Podolak said, "has really improved."
Western Beaver now heads into the playoffs riding what players and coaches alike see as a wave of improvement that's developed throughout the season. The Golden Beavers will face No. 2 seed Vincentian Academy (21-1, 10-0), the highest-scoring team in the WPIAL at 82.8 points per game.
Though Western Beaver lost its final four games, those came against strong opponents such as Class A No. 1 Lincoln Park, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (18-4) and a one-point loss to a Union team that beat the Golden Beavers by almost 20 at home just three weeks earlier.
With the team playing perhaps its best basketball of the season, the Beavers are confident of their chances in the playoffs.
"[Playing well late in the season] is definitely nice," Miller said. "It was kind of the same situation last year where we started playing better toward the playoffs, but we lost our first game. If we keep playing like we've been playing, we can compete past the first round."
Falling just short
After a stretch in which it lost six games in a row, the West Allegheny boys' basketball team rallied to win three consecutive games, setting up a season finale against Ambridge in which a win would get it into the Class AAA playoffs. The Indians ultimately lost, 56-45, however, causing them to miss out on the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Few teams in the WPIAL, on either the boys or girls side, found a better way to end its season than the Riverside girls team. The Panthers (14-8, 9-3 Section 2) won nine of their final 10 games, a run which propelled them to a third-place finish in the section standings, just behind Mohawk and Beaver Falls. The run was aided largely by the play of senior guard Alex Deep, who averaged 17.9 points per game.
A streak continues
This season did not always go smoothly for the Aliquippa boys' basketball team, as it lost nine of 12 games in the middle of the season and stumbled down the stretch to lose three of its last four games. The Quips (9-13, 7-7 Section 2), however, were able to qualify once again for the Class AA playoffs, marking the 17th consecutive season that they have made it to the WPIAL postseason.
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