North Xtra: North Catholic keeping its coach guessing
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North Catholic boys basketball coach Dave Long has wondered at times this season which team will show up when the Trojans take the floor.
He overheard a not-so-kind observation as his players left the floor at North Allegheny after last Friday night's 55-48 victory against Rochester in the first round of the WPIAL Class A boys basketball tournament.
"A Rochester fan said, 'For a third-seeded team, [North Catholic] really [stunk],'" Long recalled as the Trojans began preparations for Friday night's quarterfinal game against Our Lady of the Sacred Heart at 6:30 p.m. at North Hills.
"That fan hit the nail on the head," Long said. "We were the third-seeded team [against No. 14 Rochester], and we didn't perform to our level. If we don't play as well as we need to play, we'll be in trouble. I hope the next game is when we pull it together."
North Catholic played well enough to win without its top player, 6-foot-4 senior forward Danny Savulchak. A Shaler resident, Savulchak did not play against the Rams due to sickness, but Long expects the weeklong break between games will be just what Savulchak needs.
"He missed school last Friday, and he missed some practice as there's been [an illness] that's been going around school," the coach said. "He didn't play a minute [against Rochester]. We didn't want to put him on the floor when he wasn't feeling well.
"Everyone on the team has been a little bit sick, and we thought it would be better to have someone else on the floor who was feeling better."
Savulchak's 20.9 points per game average was missed, but the Trojans got a balanced attack on Friday with junior forward Dominic Ross leading the way with 16 points. Savulchak's younger brother, freshman Jon Savulchak, added 12 points, and junior swingman Ryan Kirby chipped in 10.
"Jon came up with those 12 points and got some big steals in the fourth quarter," Long said. "That got us over the hump."
North Catholic enters its game with OLSH with a 15-5 record, placing second in Section 2-A behind Vincentian with an 8-2 record.
OLSH was the runner-up to Lincoln Park in Section 1 with an overall mark of 19-4 and a section record of 7-3. The leaders in their respective sections are No. 2 seed Vincentian Academy (22-1, 10-0) and No. 1 seed Lincoln Park Academy (17-5, 10-0).
Besides the two section losses to Vincentian -- 80-68 and 91-82 -- North Catholic has fallen to WPIAL tournament Class AAAA No. 2 seed North Allegheny, 82-56, Class AAAA No. 3 seed Hampton, 73-52, and Johnsonburg, 60-45, which is ranked seventh in the most recent Class A rankings as compiled by The Harrisburg Patriot-News.
"My biggest worry is that we've played very well against some very good teams, and we've kept some not-so-good teams with us because of some inconsistent play," Long said. "It's hard to figure out why, but there have been times this season where we haven't taken care of business."
Nine of North Catholic's 15 victories have been by 10 or fewer points. Included in that category were one-point victories against section foes Quigley Catholic, 62-61, and Sewickley Academy, 46-45. Three other victories were by three points or fewer.
Everything seemed to click for the Trojans in one game this season when they defeated Seton-LaSalle, 56-52, on Jan. 5 in North Catholic's Don Graham Classic.
The loss was just one of two setbacks suffered by the Section 4-AA champion Rebels, who finished the regular season at 20-2 and are the No. 3 seed in the WPIAL Class AA tournament.
"Danny hit two big [3-point goals] in that game, and [sophomore point guard] P.J. Fulmore did a good job on their guard [Dale] Clancy," Long said. "Like most good programs, the offense goes through the point guard, and P.J. did a good job on their guard."
The Trojans are not looking ahead, their coach said, though it would be easy to do so. Vincentian would be the next opponent if the Royals can get past Monessen.
Long believes his team will have more than its hands full on Friday against OLSH.
"That's a strong program that is fundamentally well-coached and played very well in a tough section," he said. "The scary thing about them is that they are hungry. They haven't made the final four in the past few years, and we're the reason why that's been the case. They're hungry, and they feel they have something to prove. That's a big motivator for a team."
The Chargers also have several players who reside in the northern suburbs, not far from North Catholic's Troy Hill campus.
"It's going to be a no-holds-barred contest," Long said of what basically is an elimination game from the postseason as only the WPIAL Class A semifinalists will advance to the PIAA Class A tournament. "We're going to have to take care of the ball. We know that if we don't play well [on Friday], then [Saturday] will be a day off."
And no one wants a day off at this time of year.
First Published February 21, 2013 12:00 am