Mike Rodriguez knows teams must make the most of any advantages.
"We know it's tough to match up against some teams," said Rodriguez, the fifth-year coach of the boys basketball team at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart High School in Moon. "So our players have learned to box out well and know how to change defenses three or four times a game if that's what needs to be done."
The Chargers posted an 18-4 overall record after defeating Riverview, 67-56, in Monday's regular-season finale. OLSH had a strong season in Class A Section 1, tying for second place with Union with a 7-3 record. Lincoln Park won the section title with a 10-0 record and is the top-seeded team entering the WPIAL Class A tournament that begins Friday.
OLSH will play Trinity Christian (9-13, 5-5), the third-place team from Section 4, at 8 p.m. Friday at Cornell High School.
"I like our team's focus," Rodriguez said. "And you need that at this time of the year because there are 17 very good teams in this [WPIAL] tournament, and a lot of teams can beat the team they play. But in the last seven games, we've progressed very well."
One big reason for Rodriguez's positive outlook is the return of Stefan Arch.
A 6-foot-2 senior point guard from the Clinton section of Findlay Township, Arch suffered a concussion midway through the season a year ago. He was just cleared to play last month.
"We were 11-0 last year when we lost him, and we missed him tremendously," Rodriguez said. "But the guys stuck together, and it was really neat to watch them grow together as a team. They showed a lot of leadership and resiliency."
Arch has made valuable contributions for OLSH since his return, averaging 7 points and 8 assists a game.
The Chargers' leading scorers are Cameron Johnson and Ian Schrenk.
Johnson, a 6-3 junior forward from Moon, is averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds a game. Schrenk, a 6-1 junior from Bellevue, is averaging 11 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
The balance continues for the Chargers as Kendall Paige, a 6-2 junior forward from McKees Rocks, is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds a game. Nick Mez, a 6-3 junior center from Sheraden, rounds out the team's starting five, averaging 8.5 points and a crucial 11.5 rebounds a game.
Rodriguez knows that bench strength is crucial to a team's success, and he was most pleased with the effort provided by Hunter Szilagy, a 5-11 sophomore guard from Mars, as Arch was recovering.
"He did a great job, and he's still averaging about eight points a game coming off the bench," Rodriguez said. "Hunter plays very hard on defense."
As OLSH has adapted to personnel changes, it has shown on the court.
"We look at what we have, and we know that there are times we can't match up with another team," the coach said. "If a team is slow and methodical, we like to push it. And if the opponent likes to push it, then we'll try to play a half-court game."
The top two seeded teams in the tournament -- Lincoln Park (17-5, 10-0) and Vincentian Academy (21-1, 10-0) -- now draw Rodriguez's attention.
"Lincoln Park is solid at every position," he said. "We're going to have to be very disciplined and spread the floor if we play them."
If they do wind up playing Lincoln Park for a third time this season -- that can only happen in the championship game -- the Chargers must find a way to slow the Leopards offensively. Lincoln Park won both of its games against the Chargers by comfortable margins -- 72-48 and 66-40 -- in the regular season.
Vincentian finds other ways to beat its foes, Rodriguez said, and the Chargers must be ready for a fast-paced game if they meet the Royals, who are averaging 82.8 points a game and yielding just 55.9 points a game following Monday's regular-season finale, a 98-65 victory at Class AA playoff participant Northgate.
"Vincentian shoots well, has great scorers, and they pressure the ball," he said. "They shoot quickly and ... they take good shots. They're always going to want a fast-paced game."
Rodriguez said he enjoys coaching this group of Chargers.
"This season has been a blur for my assistants and me because these players have been so much fun to coach," he said.
OLSH is a young team with just three seniors on the roster.
"I'm lucky enough that I'll get to see these players grow," Rodriguez said. "We're very pleased with this team and with the young players coming up. I'm very proud of the boys."