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Leechburg boys basketball looks to maintain momentum gained during football season

George Guido
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg’s Dylan Cook (31) attempts a layup during a scrimmage at Kiski Area High School on Nov. 23, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg’s Dylan Cook (31) dribbles the ball up court a during a scrimmage at Kiski Area High School on Nov. 23, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg’s John Miskinis dribbles the ball during a scrimmage at Kiski Area High School on Nov. 23, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg’s Jake Blumer looks for a pass during a scrimmage at Kiski Area High School on Nov. 23, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg’s Connor McDermott (15) moves the ball during a scrimmage at Kiski Area High School on Nov. 23, 2018.
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Leechburg’s Dylan Cook (31) dribbles the ball up court a during a scrimmage at Kiski Area High School on Nov. 23, 2018.

It’s been several decades since the notion of Leechburg football success carrying over to the basketball season has been prevalent.

But that’s exactly what third-year coach Corey Smith is hoping for as he prepares the Blue Devils for a possible encore to last year’s earning of a PIAA basketball playoff berth for the first time in 11 years.

Leechburg finished last season 14-8 overall, defeated a strong Jeannette team, swept Greensburg Central Catholic and defeated Fort Cherry in an opening-round WPIAL playoff game before the season ended with a 77-54 setback against Cambridge Springs in the PIAA first round.

The Blue Devils’ football team won three of four games for the first time since 2000 and avoided a losing season for the first time since 1992, finishing 5-5.

“When you win, with it comes confidence,” Smith said. “So these football kids came in on Cloud Nine. They played .500 and were great this year. I know that will turn over to the basketball team, nothing but confidence from my players.”

The first order of business is to replace Christian Hack, one of the area’s top players over the last several seasons. Defensive specialist Corey Kerecz and inside player Tyler Leech also graduated.

But Smith will welcome back a number of key players, including senior John Miskinis and junior Jake Blumer.

“We have three starters back, and we’re right in the game mode right now,” Smith said. “We’re looking real good, and I’m proud of my team as of right now.”

“We have three starters coming back, plus kids with a lot of experience,” Miskinis said. “I think we can have another playoff run. We might not have the depth as in past years, but we’ll have people on the bench ready to go in and play.”

A player who came on strong as a freshman last year is guard Dylan Cook, who had some great shooting performances. Connor McDermott also earned a large role as the season went on.

Senior forward Nico Venanzio spelled Leech in the middle frequently last year and will play a larger role this season.

There are 14 players out for this year’s team. Smith feels he has enough for a junior varsity team, but he might not be able to go to his bench as frequently as before.

“We won’t be as deep as in the past two years,” Smith said. “We’ll still play a similar style; we have to adjust to what I have.”

Blumer and Miskinis will be helped in the frontcourt by 6-foot-4 freshman Eli Rich.

“I worked on my shooting over the summer now that Christian’s gone,” Miskinis said. “We have a new section this year. We have Greensburg Central Catholic back and a lot of athletic schools like Clairton and Imani.”

Other schools in Section 3-A include Propel Andrew Street, Trinity Christian and longtime rival St. Joseph.

This year also will mark the varsity debut for freshman Dane Davies, son of former coach Damian Davies and grandson of coach Garrie Davies.

The Blue Devils will begin the season by hosting their annual tip-off tournament against Saltsburg on Dec. 7.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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