South Xtra: Bethel standing tall in Section 4-AAAA race
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Bethel Park is shooting for some high goals this season, but it's what the Black Hawks have down low that is the biggest reason for optimism.
Led by the tallest frontcourt in the WPIAL -- 6-foot-11 Wyatt Hagerty and 6-7 Kenny Gilmore -- Bethel Park is the Class AAAA Section 4 favorite and a team to keep an eye on as a contender for the WPIAL championship.
Bethel Park, coached by Ben O'Connor, is off to a 5-0 start (2-0 in section play). The Black Hawks take on Moon Area in a section game Friday night.
Hagerty and Gilmore -- both seniors -- give Bethel Park an inside size advantage against any WPIAL team. The two were part-time starters last season, averaging about five points and five rebounds per game apiece. Now full-time starters, their numbers are increasing and their overall effect on Bethel Park's success continues to rise.
"They play extremely well together," O'Connor said. "Not often do you have a 6-7 and 6-11 kid playing together. They complement each other well.
"Both move extremely well for big kids. Kenny runs like a guard. Wyatt runs well for a 6-11 kid. The best thing they bring is they play so well together and are pretty athletic."
Gilmore opened the season with a 20-point effort against Thomas Jefferson. Hagerty had 19 points and 15 rebounds against Obama Academy, and 18 points against Canon-McMillan.
Hagerty is being recruited by Division I schools. In fact, he already has offers from James Madison, New Hampshire and Rider. O'Connor said at least a dozen other schools are interested. A coach from Winthrop attended practice Monday and a Western Michigan coach was expected to be at Tuesday's game against Upper St. Clair.
"Wyatt has put a lot of time into improving his body and his individual game over the past few years, particularly last offseason," O'Connor said. "He hit the weight room hard and improved his strength and conditioning.
"He still has a long way to go, but he's come a long way. He runs well and catches the ball and keeps it high. A lot of big guys have a tough time with that, but we preach to him the simple things. Wyatt is also extremely coachable."
Bethel Park went 15-8 last season, placing third behind Chartiers Valley and Mt. Lebanon in the section standings. It was the Black Hawks' first winning season since they won the WPIAL title in 2006-07.
Guard play drove last year's team, but with players such as Brian Holland and Evan Schweit-zer having graduated, others have been needed to step up at that position. Luckily for O'Connor, most of the players contributing saw time last season in what was a 10-player rotation.
The group is led by senior point guard Rohan Young, who scored 18 points against Canon-McMillan, a game which Bethel Park rallied from a halftime deficit to win, 61-52.
"He's been our leader on and off the court," O'Connor said. "He does all the little things a coach appreciates."
O'Connor called starting guard/forward Cody Gilchrist a "warrior." The only new face in the starting lineup is sophomore guard Joey Mascaro.
Junior guard/forward Josh Krafcynski and senior guard/forward Bobby Huntington have been the first two players off the bench. Krafcynski missed all of last season with a knee injury. Senior forward Matt Fowler is also expected to see extended action.
Defense has been a staple of O'Connor-coached teams and this season should be no different. Last season, Bethel Park surrendered 49.3 points per game, which tied for the fourth-best mark in Class AAAA. Heading into Friday's game against Moon, the Black Hawks are allowing just 38.2 points per game, the lowest mark in Class AAAA, after holding Upper St. Clair to 17 on Tuesday.
"Offense comes and goes, but you need the defense to always be there," O'Connor said.
A strong start achieved, O'Connor is looking for continued improvement as the meat of the schedule approaches.
"Things have gone well," O'Connor said. "It's definitely gotten better every day. But we're still taking it one day at a time. [An excellent start] is something to be happy about, but at the same time, real basketball is played in January and February."
First Published December 20, 2012 12:00 am