"Survive and advance" is a popular basketball catch phrase come NCAA tournament time.
For the Kiski Area basketball team, it's a way of life.
"Survive and advance. That's what we do," Kiski coach Harry Rideout said. "That's the approach we have to take every game. We're not going to overwhelm anybody. We just play good, solid basketball and do what we can to survive and advance that night."
Kiski has not only survived this season -- it has thrived.
Kiski (16-5, 9-3), which has completed its regular-season schedule, clinched at least a share of the Class AAAA Section 1 title last Friday night when it rallied from an early deficit to beat visiting Penn-Trafford, 48-44. Kiski lost to Hempfield Area, 51-44, Tuesday halting an 11-game winning streak and will share the section title with the Spartans if Hempfield (15-5, 8-3) wins tonight at Latrobe.
The section title is just the fifth in school history and it did not come easily as Kiski scored only one point in the first quarter and fell behind by 13 points against Penn-Trafford. The Cavaliers bounced back to take a 23-21 lead by halftime, however, and eked out the victory.
"Our kids were caught in what the game meant and were playing tight," Rideout said. "I called a timeout and said, 'Are you guys ready to start playing?' Everyone laughed. It broke the tension and then our guys went out and played a great game."
Kiski's success has been due in large part to being a fundamentally sound team that relies on sticky man-to-man defense and a Princeton-style motion offense.
It also helps that Kiski has four starters back from a team that went to the WPIAL playoffs last season and three seniors who are four-year letter-winners -- 6-foot-4 forward Adam Robison, 5-11 senior guard Nik Stone and 6-5 senior forward Mitchell Murdock.
"I'm very blessed to have a great group of kids to coach," Rideout said. "They're all hard workers. They all put the team first. They are all good students, in the National Honor Society and looking to go to very good colleges. They all work together."
That certainly shows on defense.
Kiski has allowed 44.7 points a game, which is tied with Quaker Valley for second-best in the WPIAL behind Plum (43.1). While part of that number is due to playing at a slower pace, Rideout also attributes much of it to his team's rebounding.
"Every coach wants a team that is strong on the defensive boards and our guys are very good at it, put a lot of effort into it," Rideout said. "We're not as big as a lot of other teams we play, we go from 5-11 to 6-5 in our starting lineup but we pride ourselves in not giving up many second-chance points."
On the other end of the court, Kiski's points come from various sources as it has four players with scoring averages in double figures. That balance showed in the win against Penn-Trafford as 6-2 junior guard Joe Brungo scored 15 points, 6-2 sophomore guard Mike Simmons and Stone added 11 each and Robison finished with 10.
After defeating Greensburg Salem, 58-44, Wednesday in its regular-season finale, Kiksi will wait to see where it will be seeded in the WPIAL playoffs. The pairings meeting will be Tuesday.
"I'm hoping we can get a four, five or six seed," Rideout said. "I'd like to be in position where we can avoid [playing] a one or two seed [in the quarterfinals]."