The past three weeks have been pretty rough on the Greensburg Central Catholic boys basketball team.
After entering the Post-Gazette's preseason rankings at No. 3 in Class AA, the Centurions opened their campaign with back-to-back victories in the St. Vincent College tip-off tournament.
But the next five games were a different story.
Besides winning its Section 4-AA opener against California, Greensburg Central suffered four losses during that five-game span.
"We lost three games by a total of seven points," said third-year coach Greg Bisignani, a 1985 GCC graduate. "We were competitive and had our chances, but we weren't able to finish and make plays at the end of the game.
"We have to be able to make plays throughout the game so we don't put ourselves in those situations. We need to put together four quarters and get better throughout the game."
Greensburg Central Catholic (4-4, 1-0) dropped from the Class AA rankings last week after losing a pair of games in the Gateway holiday tournament to Imani Christian and Erie Strong Vincent.
"We played some good teams in the Gateway tournament," said P.J. McLaughlin, a 6-foot-7 senior forward. "Imani Christian is good and Erie Strong Vincent is a very athletic team.
"But if we play our game and play hard, there's not too many teams that can beat us."
Bisignani, however, hopes the early tournament experiences will only help his team in the long run.
"We always try to challenge our team with a challenging pre-section schedule," said Bisignani, who works as an orthopedic surgeon with offices in Greensburg and Connellsville. "I have to get the kids not to focus on our record but on getting better.
"Unfortunately, we lost four games early in the season. We only lost four games all of last season. We're hoping these experiences will only help us later in the season."
Last season, the Centurions finished 27-4 and were the runners-up in both the WPIAL and PIAA tournaments. Greensburg Central began that campaign winning 13 of its first 14 games, including seven in a row at the start of the season, and captured the Section 4-AA title with a perfect 12-0 run.
"We were hoping to have another solid year and make another deep run into the playoffs," Bisignani said. "We returned three starters and some other guys with a lot of playing time. We also knew we would have a few guys getting their first year of varsity experience.
"So we knew coming in that we'd have some holes to fill, but we also expected kids to step up and keep getting better."
McLaughlin, senior guard Ben Klimchock and senior guard/forward Dan Sinwell are Bisignani's returning starters, while junior guard Zachary Herman and sophomore guard Brian Graytok fill out the rest of the Centurions' starting five.
"We're still trying to find ourselves as a team," said McLaughlin, who lives in Irwin and is a Seton Hill recruit. "We need to come together and play as a team.
"If we start playing harder and talk to one another on the court, especially on defense, we'll be fine."
According to Bisignani, McLaughlin paces the team in scoring with close to 20 points a game.
"P.J. has great hands and good feet," Bisignani said. "He's a tough matchup inside for anybody. When teams find a way to defend against P.J., our goal is always to kick the ball back outside.
"We have a nice combination with our big, inside presence and kids who can shoot from the outside."
Senior forward Tim Johnson, a Kiski Area transfer, junior guard Tyler Swan, senior guard Tom Cochenour and sophomore forward Jonah Yunker all have logged quality minutes off the bench for the Centurions.
"We're still trying to find our best chemistry and team on the floor," Bisignani said. "We have a lot of looks and combinations to use depending on who's on the floor. That gives us a lot of versatility.
"All of our kids are able to score, which also gives us a lot of versatility and balance."
Greensburg Central Catholic (4-4, 1-0) was scheduled to jump back into Section 4-AA play this week, but its game at Beth-Center Tuesday was postponed. That was to be the first of five consecutive section opponents the Centurions were to play over the next two weeks.
"We can't take any team for granted," Bisignani said. "We have to work hard at practice every day and work together as a team.
"If we do those things, we're going to get better and put ourselves in a much better position by the end of the regular season."
One of the Centurions' toughest tests in the section will be Jan. 17 when they travel to nearby rival and No. 4-ranked Jeannette.
"Jeannette always is a battle for us," Bisignani said. "They have great tradition and are always well coached. They are always at the top and if you want to win the section [title], you have to beat Jeannette."
Bisignani, however, believes these next few weeks will likely decide where his team will stand by the end of the regular season.
"We have to get on a roll here," Bisignani said. "We need to start winning some games back to back. Our section games are the ones that matter and we want to win all of them.
"We have to take each section game one at a time and continue to improve. We have to start working hard and playing strong together."
First Published January 5, 2012 5:00 AM