Fox Chapel hangs on to secure playoff berth

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In the simplest sense, Zach Skrinjar had a premonition, a hard-to-describe gut instinct.

Heading into Friday against Central Catholic, his Fox Chapel team's season was in the balance. A win would get the Foxes in the WPIAL playoffs, but a loss would end their run.

Despite that pressure, Skrinjar's confidence was unflinching. There would be no way, he thought to himself, that all of his team's work would end so quickly.

Whatever it was that caused that feeling, it turned out he was right.

Led by 21 points from guard Matt D'Amico on 8-of-9 shooting, the Foxes rebounded from a sluggish start to build a commanding lead, one that had to withstand a spirited late rally, to defeat the host Vikings, 56-50.

The victory gave Fox Chapel the final playoff berth in Class AAAA Section 2.

"I thought we had more," Skrinjar said. "I didn't think this was the end and I kept saying that to myself that 'This isn't going to be it,' and 'We're going to go.'

"It's just kind of meant to be that we get in. What we do in the playoffs, we'll see, but I kind of thought we deserved to be there."

Playing before a packed house in their bandbox of a gym -- a crowd that took up every seat more than an hour before tipoff -- the Vikings (11-10, 8-6) got off to a quick start, taking a 13-7 lead after the first quarter. Much of that advantage was built off of Fox Chapel's inability to score. Of their first 14 shots, the Foxes (16-5, 9-5) missed 12.

But it didn't remain that way much longer, partially thanks to some wisdom from the coach.

"[The message was] the same message I've had for five years -- shoot the ball," Skrinjar said. "No basketball's ever going in the hoop unless you shoot it."

Led by seven points from D'Amico, Fox Chapel stormed back, holding Central Catholic to four points in the second quarter to take a 19-17 lead at halftime.

Though they only shot 25.9 percent for the half, the Foxes forced 12 turnovers. Because of those giveaways, the Vikings attempted 11 fewer shots in the first half. For the game, Central Catholic finished with 21 turnovers.

D'Amico's hot shooting continued once the second half began, helping push Fox Chapel's lead to 36-26 at the end of the third.

But just when the game appeared over -- with Fox Chapel leading by 16 with 4:31 left -- the Vikings made a final push. In a span of about two minutes, they went on a 12-2 run to get within six with about two minutes left.

But the Foxes made 16 of 20 fourth-quarter free-throw attempts to secure what early on looked like an easy win.

For Central Catholic, the run was simply too little too late.

"I'm just proud of them because they didn't give up," Central Catholic coach Chuck Crummie said. "Most teams down 14 are going to give up and quit playing. It's just been sort of a microcosm of our season -- we play a quarter well, we play a quarter poorly. Just a lot of inconsistency."

Craig Meyer: and Twitter: @CraigMeyerPG.

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