With underclassmen all through Ambridge's roster, coach Mark Jula believes he could have an excellent team in a year or two.
But the Bridgers aren't too shabby right now, either.
Ambridge strutted around its WPIAL Class AAA preliminary-round playoff game Friday night with a sophomore attitude, and Jula liked it. Three sophomores came up with big games and led Ambridge to a 65-53 victory against East Allegheny at North Hills. The win moves Ambridge into Tuesday's first-round game against Montour.
Stephon McGinnis, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard, had six 3-pointers and scored 28 points. McGinnis was one 3-pointer away from the WPIAL Class AAA playoff game record.
Daylon Carter, a 6-4 sophomore guard-forward, came off the bench to score 21 points.
Keenan Baker, a 6-6 sophomore center, scored one point, but grabbed 21 rebounds. Ambridge needed the lift from the young bunch because senior forward Malik Walker, who averages 17 points, was held to nine, making 2 of 16 shots.
"I've been coaching 32 years and I don't mean to slight anyone I've coached, but those are three good sophomores," said Jula. "We're young, but we're old, too. Walker has been starting for four years."
The win was another step forward in Ambridge's turnaround story. The Bridgers won five games the past two seasons. Jula, a former Ambridge player, is in his first season at the helm after coaching at four other WPIAL schools.
"After 32 years, I'm having a lot of fun," said Jula. "This is my hometown. I see old timers coming out and going to games, guys who watched me play. It's just really an honor to be back here."
Jula certainly inherited some talent.
"I don't think anyone is going to want to play us in two years," Jula said.
By halftime, East Allegheny had seen enough of McGinnis. The left-handed McGinnis scored 22 of Ambridge's 35 points in the first half as the Bridgers (14-8) took a 35-23 lead. McGinnis tore apart the 2-3 zone before East Allegheny (12-11) switched to a box-and-one late in the first half. McGinnis finished 10 of 17 from the field and 6 of 8 from 3-point range.
"He's streaky," Jula said of McGinnis. "The thing about him is if he misses his first couple shots, he puts his head down and almost refuses to shoot. But if he makes the first one or two, you see what you saw tonight. He just flicks that thing. He's going to be a special player, no doubt about it."
East Allegheny stayed within striking distance and trailed, 53-48, in the fourth quarter, but got no closer.
The loss ended East Allegheny's turnaround season, as the Wildcats made the playoffs for the first time since 1996. Forward Joel Randolph led East Allegheny with 17 points.
For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published February 16, 2013 5:00 AM