West Xtra: Central Valley boys take it one game at a time

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Looking ahead and thinking about a future opponent hasn’t been an issue for the Central Valley boys basketball team.

“Our guys usually never know who we play next, and that’s something I really love about this group,” coach Brandon Ambrose said. “These guys are focused on our next opponent, preparing for that opponent and executing against them before turning the page.

“They have bought into that and I think it’s because this is a mature group. They’re focused on winning, but won’t get ahead of themselves.”

With an upperclassmen-heavy roster featuring an all-senior starting lineup, the Warriors (8-1, 2-0) now venture into the heart of their Class AAA Section 2 schedule following a near-perfect start to the season. Ranked as the Post-Gazette’s No. 1 team in Class AAA, Central Valley is coming off back-to-back victories at last weekend’s competitive C.J. Betters Tournament.

One day after slipping past Aliquippa, 44-40, the Warriors topped Beaver Falls, 51-38, Saturday at the Community College of Beaver County. The Tigers entered the tournament ranked No. 2 in Class AA.

“We’ve played very well on defense,” Ambrose said. “We’ve done a good job getting stops, moving the ball back and scoring on the transition. We’ve scored a good bit of transition points, which is nice to see.

“Scoring off our defense is definitely a difference from last season. Don’t get me wrong, our offense is doing its job, but it’s still a work in progress. We’ll continue to improve our offense, but our defense has been carrying us.”

Welcoming back all five of his starters from last season — guards Jacob St. George, Brian Kolich and Michael Sims as well as guard/forward Tony Gates and 6-foot-8 center and Seton Hill recruit Matt Kline — Ambrose usually rotates nine players each game. Junior guards John George and Dante Lucci, as well as junior guard/forward Chris Anastas and junior forward B.J. Powell, all have logged quality minutes off the bench.

“We really haven’t had this type of depth before,” Ambrose said. “Everyone wants depth and we really could play about nine to 10 guys compared to in the past when we relied on five or six guys.

“Not only do we have substitutes during games, but we’re able to make practices competitive. That’s going to help a lot during the season.”

Through nine games, Kline paced the Warriors in scoring with an average of 12.9 points. Gates followed with 11, St. George with 10.5 and Sims with 9.4.

“All of these guys are hungry to win,” Ambrose said. “Everyone loves individual accolades, but what it comes down to with this group is that it’s their senior year.

“They’re focusing more on winning as a team and team goals. They all push each other to be winners.”

Central Valley’s lone loss was against Obama Academy, 77-58, Dec. 21. The Warriors fell behind, 27-21, at the half and were unable to bounce back.

“We always want to play quality opponents and Obama Academy is a quality team with some very athletic players,” Ambrose said. “We played well against them for three quarters but ended up turning the ball over and didn’t shoot well late in the game.

“We want to play well. Wins and losses are a byproduct of how well you play. Anytime you challenge yourself and play well during the process is what we’re trying to accomplish at this point in the season.”

Last year, Central Valley shared the Section 2 crown with Beaver Area before finishing the season 16-7 after losing to Kittanning in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

The Warriors dive back into section play tonight when they host Beaver Area (4-3, 1-1). Central Valley will then face seven consecutive section opponents in January.

“Our expectations are pretty simple; we always expect to win a championship,” Ambrose said. “It’s all about preparing for our next opponent and making sure we execute what we prepare for every minute of every game.

“Our goal is the same every year and that’s to win a state championship. We have to take it a game at a time and make sure we focus on each opponent one game at a time.”

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