West Xtra: Sewickley displays progress

Craig Meyer's High School Basketball Notebook

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Much like any coach in any sport, Win Palmer doesn't sleep well the night after a tough loss.

With his Sewickley Academy team losing to Clairton in the first round of the WPIAL Class A playoffs, 55-51, Palmer had every opportunity to feel that way coming off a four-point loss that ended his team's season.

But as he gathered his players in the immediate moments after the loss, Palmer had a simple message -- he'd be alright.

"When your guys go all in, it's a great season," Palmer said. "And our guys were all in from day one. It was just incredible to coach these guys this year."

Despite the obvious disappointment that comes with a season-ending loss, Palmer had every reason to be pleased with how Sewickley played this season. The Panthers finished 13-8, a five-win improvement from last season, and had their first winning season since 2009-10, one in which they won the WPIAL and PIAA Class A championships.

Though Sewickley isn't quite to the level of that 27-2 team just yet, it is at least back on the path to those lofty heights -- all thanks to its progress this season.

"As far as I'm concerned, we righted the ship as a program this season," Palmer said. "We got back to playing winning basketball."

What exactly brought about this improvement? How did a program that went 28-38 the previous three seasons turn things back around?

It began on the offensive end. After the graduation of Tom Droney -- who is now averaging 11.3 points per game as a senior for Davidson -- and a number of other players in 2010, the Panthers were too thin physically to consistently score inside. Largely out of necessity with an overpowered roster, they had to play at a much slower pace.

This season, with a more athletic roster, Palmer had some of his players work on certain skills in the offseason, the kind that have allowed the team to play at a faster, more free-flowing pace.

Statistically, that improvement showed. After averaging 49.2 points per game over the past three seasons, Sewickley averaged 60.2 points per game this season and was held to fewer than 50 points in just four of its 21 games.

Best yet for the Panthers, there's a reasonable expectation that their success won't be limited to a single season.

Though they had a number of graduating seniors on the roster, they also return a slew of underclassmen who were significant contributors this season -- a group of players that includes, among others, forward Luke Vith, guard Anthony Muscato and forward Drew Johnson.

In the eyes of Palmer, the future is bright for the program, all thanks to the 2013-14 team.

"We got back to where we used to be," Palmer said. "It was shown throughout the season."

Tigers make mark

With a five-win improvement from last season, the 2013-14 campaign was already a successful one for the Moon Area girls' basketball team. That, however, does not mean that the Tigers are done collecting accolades.

With a 61-24 rout of Uniontown last Saturday, they won the program's first WPIAL playoff game since 2007.

The accomplishment becomes all the more impressive considering that just three years ago, Moon finished 0-22, a season in which it lost games by an average of more than 30 points.

Indians break brief drought

Though its drought was not as long as the Moon girls', the West Allegheny boys basketball team was able to do something last week it had not done for some time. The Indians' 54-47 victory against South Park last Friday was their first in the WPIAL playoffs since the 2010-11 season. A 63-41 loss to Thomas Jefferson Tuesday ended their season.

Only two members of their current team -- guard J.T. Bayly and forward Alex Gira -- were on the varsity roster at that time. West Allegheny finished its season by winning seven of its last 10 games after a 6-8 start.

Weekly watch

Quigley Catholic vs. St. Joseph, Saturday, site and time TBD -- A Class A girls matchup between two teams playing their best basketball of the season. Quigley has won eight in a row and has lost just once since Dec. 28. In all, only one of its losses this season has come to a Class A team. The Spartans will face a big challenge against 19-4 St. Joseph, a team that boasts the WPIAL's second-leading scorer in Mallory Heinle (23.7 points per game).

Craig Meyer: cmeyer@post-gazette.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG

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