People often use the term "clean slate" to describe a team that's given a second chance and a shot at redemption, usually as a way to make up for what has gone wrong in the past.
Heading into the 2012-13 WPIAL basketball season, the Rochester boys team's proverbial slate wasn't just clean, but it was entirely blank. That's because last season, the Rams finished the season without a single win, going 0-20 and losing games by an average of 22.8 points per contest.
This year, however, was a different story entirely as Rochester made the most of its chance to start over.
Though the Rams' season ended last Friday with a 55-48 loss to North Catholic in the first round of the Class A playoffs, they were able to go 7-16 this season and secure a postseason berth just one year removed from a winless mark.
In the eyes of coach Brad Verrico and his team, it was the first step in what he sees as the process of building a program that wants viable long-term success in years to come.
"I told our seniors, 'You can turn this program around,' and the first way to do that is to make the playoffs," Verrico said.
The trip to the playoffs was the bookend of a whirlwind 16-month period for Verrico's head coaching career.
Entering the 2011-12 season, Rochester was fresh off a 19-4 campaign that saw it advance to the WPIAL quarterfinals. A team that featured nine sophomores, however, was missing its former head coach just a month before the season began, as Paul Long unexpectedly resigned that October.
Verrico took over from there and, with the season beginning on unusual terms, the team predictably struggled. Verrico said the Rams had problems with overall discipline, but it was able to work through those issues, something which has helped make it a better team this season.
"I had to set the tone in my first year," Verrico said. "After that, the kids started to believe."
Perhaps the biggest moment in the Rams' turnaround came in the team's first game of the season, when it recorded a road victory at South Side Beaver that gave it its first regular-season win in more than a year and a half.
For a team that played some close games despite its numerous shortcomings the previous season, according to Verrico, that win was a launching point of sorts.
"Last year, we were in a lot of games, we just couldn't pull out the victory because we didn't know how to win," Verrico said.
The team improved on the offensive end, where it scored about four more points per game than it did last season, but the biggest improvement was on defense, where it held opponents to seven fewer points per game. Rochester's 70.1 points per game allowed last year were tied for the most of any WPIAL team.
The Rams were also able to make the playoffs coming out of one of the toughest sections in Class A, one that included No. 1 Lincoln Park, as well as Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Union teams that each won at least 17 games this season.
Though it loses talented seniors Alyjah Elmore (the team's leading scorer) and Dalton Paxson, Rochester returns a wealth of experience next season with notable underclassmen such as guards O'Shea Anderson, Chaz Verrico, Isaiah Hauser and Matt Kosanovich, as well as forwards Jesse Jamery and Brent Johnson.
With tanglible signs of improvement and a strong core returning, the barometer for success has undoubtedly been raised at Rochester.
"Now that we made the playoffs, that's an expectation every year," Verrico said.
Coming back for the upset
After limping its way into the postseason, having lost three of its final four regular-season games, the Cornell High School girls' basketball team got off to a good start in the Class A playoffs. After trailing Carmichaels, the No. 6 seed, by eight points at halftime, the Raiders stormed back to score 40 points in the second half en route to a 61-56 first-round upset.
Mason DePetro, who finished the regular season as the team's leading scorer at 16.1 points per game, led all scorers with 28 points. Cornell will look to continue its run Saturday with a quarterfinal game against a 14-9 North Catholic team led by one of the WPIAL's top scorers in Lauren Wolosik (27.1 points per game).
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