There was no trip to Palumbo Center for the Gateway High School boys basketball team this season, no WPIAL championship trophy ... not even a section title.
In reality, a young Gateway team exceeded the expectations of many, however, and added more evidence to the belief that the Gators won't be dropping their status as one of the top boys programs in WPIAL Class AAAA anytime soon.
"I can't say I'm really satisfied because we didn't win a championship, but I'm satisfied with the effort and I'm satisfied with the fact that we got better," Gateway coach Mitch Adams said. "We did a lot of good things, but we also showed what we have to work on to get back to playing for championships."
After making it to the WPIAL championship game three years in a row -- winning back-to-back titles in 2011 and '12 -- and advancing to at least the second round of the PIAA playoffs three consecutive years, Gateway was knocked out in the WPIAL quarterfinals and PIAA first round, both losses coming against powerful New Castle, the undefeated WPIAL champion.
The latest setback -- a 68-48 loss last Saturday -- ended Gateway's season. The Gators finished 16-7.
Gateway had to replace eight seniors from last season's championship squad. The departing players included a core group consisting of Tyler Scott, Barnett Harris and Luke Kochka, all of whom were stalwarts in the team's playing rotation for several seasons.
Luckily, the Gators had a returning point guard in senior D.J. Boyce who brought not only experience, but leadership to a team that needed it as it formed an identity. Boyce, a team captain, was terrific this season, establishing himself as one of the premier point guards in Class AAAA.
"I think the highest compliment I could give him is that I wouldn't mind having him as my own son," Adams said. "He does everything I ask of him. He understands me. He has done so much for us on the court. Plus, he's great academically, too."
Boyce and junior forward/ captain Tom Kromka were both starters on the 2012 team that beat Central Catholic in the WPIAL championship game.
"Other than D.J. and Tom, we didn't have a lot back from last season," Adams said.
The rest of the lineup lacked varsity experience, but new players established roles and helped the Gators become quite successful.
Guard/forward Deon Cottrell-Baker and Jordan Landfair were two seniors who stepped into key spots, and they were joined by a supporting cast that included juniors Delvon Randall and Shomari Thomas.
Randall had a breakout season in what was his first year on the team. Randall, who is receiving Division I interest in football, consistently scored in double figures the last two months of the season, and tallied a game-high 20 points in the PIAA loss to New Castle.
"His athleticism is so great," Adams said.
Gateway finished in second place in a strong Section 2 with an 11-3 record, putting the Gators behind Central Catholic and in front of Fox Chapel and McKeesport.
Gateway defeated Kiski Area in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs and then lost to New Castle in the quarterfinals. The Gators earned a bid to the PIAA playoffs as the WPIAL's No. 5 team when New Castle won the district title.
"I've tried to build a program in which we expect to play for a WPIAL championship and play deep into the state playoffs every year," said Adams, who finished his eighth season as Gateway's head coach.
With a strong junior class returning, the Gators will likely be contending for postseason hardware again next season. Along with experience, the Gators will have a good bit of size.
"We're very excited," Adams said. "If a point guard steps up, we could be very good."hsbasketball