Fox Chapel comes up big, takes Section 2 lead

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Just under two years ago, the Fox Chapel boys basketball team was not on the same level as its counterpart at Gateway, let alone at a level where it could be on the same court as the Gators in a game with any sort of meaning.

The Gators were in the process of polishing off a 23-5 season and their first of consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA titles while the Foxes were near the bottom of the Section 2 standings with a paltry 6-15 record.

Now, Fox Chapel was not only just behind Gateway in the section standings, it was not only playing against it in an important late-season game, but it also was convincingly beating it.

Playing in front of a charged home crowd on senior night, the Foxes (15-4, 10-2) picked up a signature win in what already has been a strong and successful season, defeating the Gators, 51-37, and defending their home court on a night when they needed to the most.

"We really put an emphasis on that fact that we come in here every day, we practice here every day, we sweat here every day, we put the time in here every day," Fox Chapel coach Zach Skrinjar said. "This is kind of our second home and you have to defend your home court. We did that [Friday night]."

The win moves Fox Chapel into first place in Section 2.

Though it was senior night, the Foxes' biggest contributions came from their juniors that are the team's two leading scorers -- Matt D'Amico and Brian Papich. D'Amico, who entered the game as one of the top 10 scorers in the WPIAL at 23.7 points per game, had a game-high 19 points with Papich adding 13.

Freshman guard Brendan Urso added 11 points, routinely coming up as an outside shooting threat for a team that made almost half of its 3-point attempts (5 of 11).

With everything that was at stake, between the section standings and a chance to make the night a memorable one for the departing seniors, the win was especially sweet for Fox Chapel.

"We knew how important this game was and we wanted to do it for our seniors because we've been working at it for four years [and] we've put the time in the gym," Papich said. "We play as a team. We might not be the biggest team, but we have heart."

In a game pitting two of the top teams in Class AAAA against each other, it was an extended run in the first and second quarters that ultimately would prove to be the difference.

Tied at 8-8, Fox Chapel scored 12 unanswered points to take a 20-8 lead that gave them control for virtually the rest of the game. From the moment that the run ended with a basket from Gateway's Shomari Thomas with 3:15 left in the second quarter, the Gators (11-4, 9-2) would never get closer than seven points.

Defensively, it was a strong effort from the Foxes who held Gateway, a team that entered the game averaging 57.9 points per game, to a season-low 37 points. Thomas led the Gators with 10 points.

Fox Chapel, which had lost five of its previous six matchups against Gateway, is in control of its destiny, with two section games remaining, both at home.

It's an enviable position that Skrinjar can thank his team for giving them in a game when it mattered the most.

"It was unbelievable," Skrinjar said. "We had a game plan, the kids followed it to a T. We're not the biggest guys, but those guys bust their butt. We do it on positioning, we do it on drills.

"Every day, we go through three stations with our coaches and I know it's not the most fun thing to do, but in a game like this, that's what you have to do to win. It paid off for us."

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Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @craig_a_meyer.


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